Light Offerings

Surfing the digital light fantastic in education

Posted by jturner56 on October 30, 2012


School is about the relationship between education as an agreed set of expectations and learning as a personal construct. Digital has potential to enhance this.

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A Deep Learning Dive: Objectives for Educating in a Digital Age

Posted by jturner56 on November 10, 2019

Haven’t been blogging much lately, as have been working on trying to understand more deeply the position of digital within school educating. The result is A Deep Learning Dive: Objectives for Educating in a Digital Age  (Turner 2019)– a journey through different layers of the grammar of school.

Starting with Tyack and Cuban’s (1995) grammar of school, and ending with Mehta and Fine’s (2019) new grammar of school, it is apparent that while many school remain committed to the traditional grammar of school, if deeper learning and understanding is the objective, a commitment is needed to advance further

  • choice to students
  • opportunities for deep dive learning through electives
  • authentic applied learning beyond curriculum offerings
  • supportive teacher pedagogy and school leadership mindsets
  • purposeful communities of practice (Mehta & Fine 2019)

Within this digital has a role to place an a medium to “enhance experiential learning, foster project-based and inquiry-based learning pedagogies, facilitate hands-on activities and cooperative learning” through developing learning environments that give “learners choice, ownership, and voice through an authentic learning opportunities” (OECD 2015).

I look forward to both continuing to seek to develop practical pathways for this, as well as elicit discussion and feedback. Over to you.


Mehta, J., & Fine,S. (2019) In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Cambridge, Ma : Harvard University Press
OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, OECD Publishing, Paris
Turner, J. (2019) A Deep Learning Dive: Objectives for Educating in a Digital Age. Available at
Tyack, D. B., & Cuban, L. (1995) Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

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Digital in School Educating, 40 years on

Posted by jturner56 on September 1, 2019

This past week I presented at a conference on designing learning spaces. Conferences are always a good opportunity to reflect on the state of things. In my case I was presenting on the potential of digital within learning spaces.

Here is my presentation summary slide


The bottom-line lesson was that those of us who see in digital the potential to support student learning through empowering their learning continue to run up against a dominating view of digital as a tool consideration built around digital as an add-on and usually optional. At one end one can see schools, many who have built their reputation on Grade 12 results, defining choice on whether it impacts on such results. Elsewhere schools have built spaces to encourage play and innovation even if not wholly embedded.

All schools would contend they are student-learning focused, but what this means varies as widely as the beliefs on learning that can be found in most schools. Likewise with digital now that teachers can aligned experience with beliefs.

To empower the student as a learner, be it through digital or not, one has to be truly committed to student choice, freedom to act, and value in the learning relationships that need to be built. While the building of a strong literacy base is also important, from play-based learning in younger-years, through developing digital literacies that value the so-called ’21stC Skills) (WEF 2016), to the senior students engaging in enterprise and social change, too often commitment barely moves beyond lip service or superficial positioning.

Driven by school leaders and teachers by the system, of the system, and for the system conservative elements can dominate. In times of economic stress, as Burns (2002) shows, its conservative role in the socialisation of the young and the maintenance of social order leads to even less experimentation when economic stresses increase. Add to this the social challenges and economic disruptions that digital is involved in and the pressures on schools makes conservativism a more comfortable response, especially at the spectrum end of schools that have as yet not been disrupted. At the other end radical ‘solutions’ threaten to degrade the system further under the ever-undermining proposal of ‘digital as solution.’ This sees AI as the current embodiment of the teaching replacement potential of digital that goes as far back to at least Taylor’s (1980) The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee

After going on four decades digital in education remains at the initial contestable level. Perhaps it will always be so.

Burns, Robin Joan. 2002. Education and Social Change: A Proactive or Reactive Role? International Review of Education, Volume 48, Issue 1-2, pp. 21-45

Taylor, Robert. 1980. The Computer in the school: tutor, tool, tutee. New York: Teachers College Press.

WEF. 2016. What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Available at

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On Digital Learning Spaces

Posted by jturner56 on August 23, 2019

This coming week I am presenting at the 5th Next Generation Learning Spaces Conference in Singapore on Design Learning Experiences.

Key points I will be making include

  1. There is an ongoing contest between those who see digital as of most value for education as a Tool, a Teaching Medium, or as a Learning Empowerer
  2. Learning Space Design can be wherever one wishes to development them. From classrooms to project spaces to specialised technology spaces. The challenge is the strength of the ecosystem and the value it provides.
  3. Research as shared by the Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change Project ( identifies five consideration for an learning space that hopes to advance learning:
    • Spatial Design
    • Pedagogy
    • Acoustics
    • Furniture
    • Technology
  4. I would add three more
    • Relationships
    • Objectives
    • Interconnections
  5. ILETC also points to research into the effect of learning environments on 21st century competencies as yet to be rigorously evaluated
  6. Our school has built its digital learning structures around key elements of the school’s IB Curriculum: Student Agency, Inquiry and Social Value
  7. This includes Innovation Fairs for Grade 7 and 8 students, linked to PYP Exhibition and MYP Personal Projects
  8. Digital is a core part with 1:1 iPads in Grades 1-3, 1:1 laptops in Grades 4-6 as well as 1:1 robots in Grades 4-6. All utilised as personal learning environments appropriate to the student’s development stage.
  9. With Digital any Learning Space Design presents particular challenges because of the following elements
    • fast changing – necessitating adaptability
    • personal technologies – necessitating choice
    • underlying beliefs – impacting on pedagogy and values
    • boundaries and fallibilities – due to meeting budgetary and social realities
  10. Support is a key ingredient, from inclusive leadership by example to at-hand technical support
  11. Curriculum Development is also an ever changing requirement. My Grade 7 Projects have evolved continuously over the decades. Currently we include a VR Publishing project using 360 degree cameras, Adobe Premier and a Hive VR system
  12. The impact of digital on all aspects of learning and life, from distraction to expression, requires a Digital Life approach. In our case it is built around REP (Respect, Educate, Protect)
  13. The choices schools face in designing their new spaces, though, could lead to  cathedrals, showrooms, train stations, holiday farms, traveling show or incubators. Only one of these provide an empowering environment for people learning and working together purposefully and appropriately for the Digital Age.
  14. The future is already here, with AI, VR/AR and Youtube Learning already impacting on learning and educating, even if in unacknowledged ways

If you are at the conference please connect and we can discuss further

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LESSONS FROM A LONG BREAK: Whither education in an age of upheaval?

Posted by jturner56 on August 22, 2019

With the northern hemisphere mid-year break come the opportunity to catch up with some reading and reflection.

I start with a journalist mother who in Why I am disturbed by the massive change in our children’s classrooms (11/07/19) voiced her concerns at the ‘unscrutinised and unsupported by evidence’ approach to BYOD in Australian classrooms. Drawing on David Gillespie, author of Teen Brain, and Helen Rimington from Melbourne’s Drummond Street Services, she decrys “an education system allowing a major multinational to infiltrate our schools and hook our children into a lifetime of device use on pseudo-legitimate terms.”

In a similar vein another journalist, Pallavi Singhal, points to a “new report raises questions over push to teach coding in schools” (21/07/19). The report in question was a commission from the NSW Department of Education for Lyria Bennett Moses entitled “Helping Future Citizens Navigate an Automated, Datafied World”. It includes the view that “ it is not realistic to expect high school students (let alone every high school student) to be able to code a machine learning algorithm, let alone build a robot capable of deep learning. Advanced courses offered at tertiary level will continue to be the training ground for future data scientists, statisticians, roboticists, programmers, systems designers and AI researchers.” (p7). The journalist provided her own interpretation of what this meant.

Such views support a justification for deep concerns on educational approaches to digital in schools. If Lesson One is that We live in the Age of Belief it requires much deeper thinking to move beyond shared belief to system understanding.

A good reference point is Neil Selwyn who has a long history in this area. In is banning mobile phones in schools a good idea? The evidence may surprise you (26/07/19) Selwyn acknowledges that issues of distraction and anti-social behaviour warrant a response, but that there is also evidence of the ineffectiveness of denial. Better for Selwyn would be “a recognition teachers should be trusted to exercise their professional judgement as to how they could be making good educational use of devices in their lessons.”

Of course a perennial go to is ex-Stanford Professor Larry Cuban who’s latest blog offering is from a social scientist and consultant, Benjamin Keep (28/07/2019). In it he seeks to address the issue that “high levels of technology use in the classroom tend to correlate with lower student performance” by advocating the alignment of technology to pursue specific learning goals through only using only technology that is supported by existing learning research.

The lesson taken is that in an age of information overload one can find justification for whatever belief one which to propose or advance.

Into this we need to also consider the wider issues that Benjamin Frey provides in his book The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation (2019). In this Frey draws parallels with the start of the Industrial Age in the early 19th century to show similarities with the impact of Artificial Intelligence on all aspects of today’s societies. In this regard he notes that “Skill-biased technological change means that new technologies increase the demand for workers with more sophisticated skills, relative to those without such skills. Thus, inequality between the skilled and the unskilled will rise unless the educational system churns out skilled workers at a greater pace than technology increases the demand for them” (ref 4265) and that “The post-1980 upsurge in wage inequality could simply reflect that the marketplace increasingly rewards people with more skills and the failure of the educational system to meet skill demand in the higher-tech economy.” (ref 4276)

This point to an Age of Upheaval with inherent risks at all levels of thought.

Rather than a reactive response to digital ‘problems’ in education, a recognition of the upheaval education is now part of is needed. One that, while acknowledging the challenges that go with such an age, is committed to ‘adding value’ to not only subject learning (which can be problematic with its dependence on teacher belief) but also personal learning (which acknowledges the changing nature of personal learning in the age of Youtube, personal smartphones and global connectivity) as well as social responsibility to support developing the skills needed for a digitally affected world.

In Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries, Safi Bahcall (2019) looks at the difference between ideas and strategies. She refers to a loonshot as “an idea or project that most scientific or business leaders think won’t work, or if it does, it won’t matter (it won’t make money). It challenges conventional wisdom.” (ref 4288). For this ideas need to be fostered, supported, developed and included within incubators that are both separated and included. Maybe this something for schools to consider more deeply.

This would require developing incubators for teachers and student ideas, the building of digital-based curriculums such as for digital literacy, the application of system thinking, and the development of schools as cohesive communities.

In summary, we are in a time of upheaval (like ‘duh’, one only has to look at Trump or Brexit or myriad upheaval situations.) But education requires educators who adhere to the word’s latin core, ‘to lead out’. Perhaps to lead through the data battles that are only just beginning, the control v empower agendas that reflect the behaviouralist v cognitive views of education and the political limitations of school systems stuck in industrial antecedents.

Practically, we need to move beyond just the WHAT (contentions) to include the WHY (as debatable conversations) and the HOW (best to work through the choices we face)

So for example

  • WHAT: such as addressing No Coding or No Computers assertion
  • WHY: School education is a contestable domain, and while personal views on digital range across a spectrum, school’s responsibility to help prepare our young for an increasingly digitally influenced world surely need to include digital teaching and learning considerations
  • HOW: as a personal learning tool if not medium digital can be used to help address the questions – What can you make with your learning? – in meaningful ways through structural and leadership support.

With a driving question: WHAT CAN YOU MAKE WITH THAT LEARNING (that can look at more than just grades/exam scores)

This is my lesson for the long break


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Why use digital technologies in schools?

Posted by jturner56 on June 20, 2019

It seems a perennial question. Just this past week my I came across a Hechinger Report on research showing digital in schools negatively correlated to test scores, a Forbes article by Linda Darling Hammond on needing to better understand the ‘how’ if digital tech use in schools is to be successful, and another Forbes article from Helen Bouygues that highlighted the number of open questions around technology use in schools that have yet to be resolved.

With negative impacts of distraction, ongoing budgetary costs, the everchanging nature of digtechs, and no overarching evidence of any positive effect on testing which remains at the core of school education, why even bother?

To some it is for school to remain relevant, although the commercial and neo-liberal shadows that hang over the ‘supporting’ research makes one suspicious as to whose relevance we are really worrying about. Too often responses to the question are distorted by ideological, commercial or self-serving perspectives.

As someone who who has taught with digtechs for over three decades, which goes back to even before the Web went mainstream, it is a question I have continually asked myself and have had to reassess as each new digital wave has decended on school.

My initial observation was that digital could support engagement, motivation and opportunity for learning through experience. Over time I have come to see the power of digital to support learning as a mirror, an amplifier and a choice.

This has gone through several recursive iterations, first regarding cognition, later towards media, and more recently on relationships and back to cognition. For cognition the immediacy of feedback. For media new learning forms as evident in Youtube. For relationships one has only to look at social media. And back to cognition for emerging questions of memory, dependency and attention. All waves have provided challenges and opportunities for valued ideas.

Along the way subject learning relevance emerged through digital’s effect on redrafting, information (access, evaluation and use), creativity, communication, connection and  collaboration.

Yet school predominantly remains driven by pen and paper standardised assessments around an almost closed knowledge base that descend from on high (that being the exit filtering exams of senior years). A default systems driven by Taylor-Thorndike systems from the early 20th century is holding firm, held up by gatekeepers to the system, but to what end? To date this has seen the promise and threat of online  learning kept generally at bay, but for how long as amore sophisticated algorithms come into play? An underlying threat of AI driven behaviouralism is also yet to play out.

Students provided with this Grammar or Game of School increasingly see it as more of a means to an end. With good teaching students can see further. But for those in areas where the ends are increasingly shakey this places increased pressure on what is being provided. In a winners and losers world this does not become an issue until there is an existential threat, or when those who see themselves as deserved or more assert themselves, as has played out politically across several countries in recent years.

Within this digital has been an add-on, segment, or option. School has assimilated digital into its pre-digital preferences. This is evident if one removed digital, as school could still operate as it was pre-digital (try that with the airline system and the differences would be stark). Even with this, though, there is opportunity to develop a digital learning approach that values learning through developing digital literacy, process thinking, personal learning, and application within social environments.

To go deeper requires four re-thinks

  1. How can we support students to go deeper in their understanding to build stronger schemas and contextual application aligned to interests and abilities that are freed from standardised boxes?
  2. What values should be driving educating? Can we go beyond marks and grades to – what can you make with your learning? – that is building new learning that is relevant, valued and progressive?
  3. Innovation as constantly seeking to improve in all aspects, while recognising the risks one needs to take to forge new paths.
  4. Community building on an underlying principle that all people matter. Relationship building as a core learning construct. For digital, as Gary Kasparov demonstrated person AND digital > person OR digital.

Until we can move beyond our understanding of digital in schooling as a teacher or curriculum consideration based on the past we cannot hope to redefine a better education.

The challenge continues.

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Digital for Educating Anyone?

Posted by jturner56 on May 1, 2019

As someone working with edtechs my job is to seek new ideas and connect to add value within the educational environment in which I work. Part of this is trying to keep abreast with contributions from near and far (an increasingly more difficult part as exponential information growth continues with no end in sight).

This past week or so provided me with some insights into the shadows that T S Eliot identified as existing between the ideas and the realities.

Between the idea And the reality
Between the motion And the act
Falls the Shadow”

A reality challenge can perhaps be seen in Tom Hierck’s meme “21st century kids are being taught by 20th century adults, using 19th century curriculum and techniques, on an 18th century calendar.

The ideas are what should be done about this. Hierck (2014) identifies the development of critical thinking, meaningful engagement and authentic collaborations as primary needs. For Ken Robinson (2019) a renewed commitment to creativity, compassion, citizenship and collaboration, with cultures and creativity powered through technology.

So where does edtech fit in. As it turns out, within the shadows of disputed ideas. Edtech remains a yet to mature research domain displaying little theory clarity or advancement (Hew et al 2019). While an eclectic field it falls back on naive empiricism (evidence of what work) even as its realities lead to wider gaps with the world beyond the classroom. What is complex is politically redefined as superficial segmentation.*

At the realities end, as identified in a Columbia University study (Friedman 2019), there is a range of almost equally distributed teacher approaches to edtech:

  • Dextrous: looking for more pd to make greater use of digital
  • Evaders: resistant to digital
  • Assessors: most comfortable with drill and practice digital environment
  • Presenters: content to limit use of digital for student and teachers presentation

CommonSenseMedia (2019) also report that teachers as a group make little use of digital creation tools.

To this I would add lamplighters to signify those teachers who as educators seek to illuminate valued learning from new and recent digital technologies. But where are they?

School change needs to account for this while open to providing ways forward for all students to be given opportunities to develop deeper understanding, being able to build their own learning and find appropriate pathways for future success. Teachers are key stakeholders for this. Leadership needs to be defined by example rather than gatekeeping. Our intent should include appropriate digital classroom are built to complement to required human relationship development. As Fagell (2019) observes, things are changing as digital affects what it means to be a teenager. As Mark Scott (2019) acknowledges, school systems need learning areas where students (and teachers, if they are to lead by example) can question, challenge, seek insights and search for why.

The world beyond is calling for stronger digital literacies. Our young want to use digital avenues for expression and identity formation, and in the absence of educating are seeking their own ways unaided, often at great risk. The workplace needs more computational thinkers and is building artificial and extended intelligence systems. And the impact of digital on society requires a core educational and societal response. Empathy and Trust are at risk. Yet the realities have barely shifted. It is as if increasing fears of the future shackle our educational systems to a perceived more comfortable past.

In the meantime are the cracks getting wider?


CommonSenseMedia. 2019. Common Sense Census: Inside the 21st Century Classroom. Available at the-common-sense-census-inside-the-21st-century-classroom-2019

Fagell, Phyllis. 2019. How childhood has changed for teens. Available at

Friedman, Sarah. 2019. How teachers use technology in the classroom. THE Journal. Available at how-teachers-use-technology-in-the-classroom.aspx

Hierck, Tom 2014. What is the “Value-Added” in Schools Today? Available at

Huw et al. 2019. Where is the theory within the field of edtech research? Available at

Ito, Joi. 2019. Forget about AI extended intelligence is the future. Wired. Available at

Robinson, Ken. 2019. Standardisation broke education. Here’s how we can fix our schools. Wired. Available at

Scott, Mark. 2019. On Us. Melbourne University Publishing: Melbourne, Vic


*  My educational philosophy, while starting with the potential for more powerful learning engagements through digital (as championed by Papert), has grown to embrace a more comprehensive call for schools to also recognise and support student development as

    • Digitally Literate students
    • Digital publishers and storytellers
    • Computational Thinkers
    • Living in an era where digital life is embedded within real life

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EdTech Simplified (I wish!)

Posted by jturner56 on April 8, 2019


As I wind up a course that looked at using mobile technologies for teaching and learning I thought it might be a good time to take a look at the state of  educational technologies in schools.

In an attempt to bring some clarity to this I start with a simple analysis of WHY, HOW, WHAT, WHEN, and WHO.

A Personal View

But before that a personal perspective is required, reflecting digital’s power as a personal learning medium ever since ‘personal computer’ was first termed in 1974.  Because WHY one looks will frame WHAT is seen.

I see five levels to this:

Level 1: Personal

Starting as a teacher in the mid-1980s I saw first hand the demonstrated potential of digital technologies to advance learning. Personal experiences with this empowered me as a metacognitive thinker through word processing as well as advancing mathematical schema understanding and expression through educational coding. My classroom approach early on identified the importance of learning with students in flattened learning environments, as well as the value in generating opportunities to engage that saw students work beyond the teacher and bell. This also propelled me to seek greater academic understanding.

Level 2: School

Early on what was then Computer Studies was classified and treated as as low level subject. Generally digital was controlled through designated and usually isolated labs or single machines looked after by an interested teacher.

Technical demands and limited perceived value saw digital dismissed by most teachers and school gatekeepers, although as it became more socially valued and integrated, realignments were deemed necessary.

Over time there have been some playing around the edges, but the F W Taylor inspired structuralist timetable, foundation subjects, standardisable assessment and pre-packaged curriculum remains sacrosanct. A system that sometimes overlooks that K-12 schooling contains several developmental phases requiring different approaches. Educators have to work within the paradoxically nature of School as upholder of past values and structures, yet expected to ‘add value’ to current ‘requirements’, while helping prepare the young for an unknown future in fast changing, digitally encrusted, times.

On top of this the ever changing dynamic of digital with its adaptability demands makes it difficult to find a solid base in school education.

Yet School also remains a fundamental social institution of great import.

Level 3: Other Schools

One cannot advance in digital alone. From early on like-minded digital educators have found fellow travelers. On rare occasions this has included school gatekeepers. This has led to tribal divisions around technologies and educational beliefs.

At times marketing has been used to gloss over structural deficiencies.

Level 4: Education Systems

The relationship between school as a system and digital as a personal learning medium remains conflicted.

And finally: Level 5: Education as whole

Education has always been conflicted, since at least the days of Socrates and hemlock. Research reflects philosophical perspectives as well as political influences and commercial agendas.

Taking a wider look at the WHY, HOW, WHAT, WHEN and WHO

Question 1: WHY would you want to use digital technologies within schools?

Not that straight forward.

One could focus on:

  1. Test Scores. A debatable contention
  2. “21C” Skills: for learning or employment. Always evolving and debated
  3. Digital Literacy  (see Turner 2012) with its focus on planning, adapting, information processing producing, problem solving and collaborating
  4. Digital as a tool for learning. Open to wide interpretation (Turner 2012)
  5. Digital as a teaching replacement). A key driver for business “efficiency” in the digital age is decreasing employee numbers, but conjectural as to the value for school communities
  6. Digital as a learning transformation medium through its relationship to personal learning
  7. Digital as an end in itself because schools need to align to the wider world beyond school.

A focus in the 1980s on skills, experiences and specialisation has evolved to considerations of Digital Literacy (linked to Media Literacy and Information Literacy), Digital Life (encompassing Digital Citizenship and Ethics), Computational Literacy (trying to better prepare and widen the net for the Computer Scientists so widely sought), Digital Publishing (as an extension of classroom boundaries) and Global Connectivity.

The WHY also depends on teacher and school priorities.

In School as an institution, the E L Thorndike early 20thC defined laws of effect,  exercise and readiness prioritised delivery of predefined experiences modelled on the 5Ts (Traditions, Teachers, Textbook, Transmission and Tests). An approach that values turning up, meeting imposed obligations, recognising dependency to the system as a child, learning to climb over hurdles, and valuing learning for the sake of some increasingly ill defined future for most. What Tyack and Cuban (1995) would equate to the grammar of schooling.

School over the past century been the battleground  between progressives (drawing on John Dewey (1910)), who wish to put the whole student’s interests at the heart of the system, conservatives who defend the preeminence of subject-based foundational knowledge, and structuralists who carry on Thorndike’s frames of reference. All would claim to be well intentioned.

Within this a range of philosophies and psychology views are at work. These include

Behavioralists, echoing Thorndike who see learning as an issue of cause to effect  (see also Skinner)
Idealists: look beyond to perfect forms (see Plato)
Scientists: who are driven by classifying (see Aristotle)
Romantics: who believe in a better unknown through freedom (see Rousseau)
Pragmatists: who believe if it works it has meaning

and I would add Hannah Arendt in her thinking on how best to link heritage with future possibility.

Question 2: HOW then to best use digital technologies in schools

Still debatable: subject, discipline topics, or integrated? (see Sterling (2016) as an example)

Project Based Learning, Design Thinking and Gamification are more recent processes advanced to make better use of digital in education. Dismissed by many structuralists as tending towards superficiality.

Demand for technical specialisations continues to increase but schools in general seen as too often coming up short. Gaps widening in line with social inequalities. Shortcomings used to promote greater control through, or investment in, the latest technology.

In most schools educational technologies are still treated as an optional add-on or ill considered intruder, a view endorsed by the work of Larry Cuban (1987, 2003).

Also we need to consider: HOW best to evaluate the success of an educational technology? A simple test might be to see what would change if the technology was taken away? Some remain comfortable with this as the preferred option.

As already raised, focusing on test score improvements is debatable. Hattie’s (2011) meta-analysis of educational initiatives found Computer Aided Learning (CAL) as below minimal expectations, although later coming under fire for his narrow learning focus.

Lorna Earl’s (2013) Assessment AS Learning can inform any focus on using assessment to improve learning. Assessment OF Learning (for external consumption) and Assessment FOR Learning (feeding into teacher feedback systems) are alternatives also in use within schools. But Assessment AS Learning done well can be a good fit for digital’s immediate feedback and ‘what-if’ systems as well as meta-cognitive support.

The traditional approach could be termed Making Grades through standardising. At the other end neo-constructionists see Learning emerging through Making.  A third way might be asking the question What can you Make with your Learning? This acknowledges building, taking on and challenging prior learning to seek deeper learning through valued application.

In support of this, a good guide is provided through Ruben Puentedura’s (2013)  SAMR model (technology as Substitution, Augmentation, Modification or Redefinition). Note though, that terms like Redefinition, Transformation and Revolution, have political undertones well analysed by Arendt (1961).

Question 3: WHAT to develop through educating with digital technologies?

Personal learning affordances supported by digital technologies have been well researched:

(Kearney, Schuck , Burden & Aubusson 2012)

Mobile Learning Affordances for School

Increased access
Building personal relationships with learning
Personalisation of choice and pathways
Increased accessibility to content
Increased learning interactivity
Connecting across contexts

(Turner 2015)

Digital Literacy can also provide a supportive mechanism for learning through developing Planning, Adapting, Organising Information, Creating, Solving and Connecting (with others) attributes (Turner 2012).

The World Economic Forum (WEF 2016) provides a unifying approach to educating that recognises the importance of the past, the present, the human, as well as future possibilities and challenges. To go deeper subject learning should be linked to wider application which includes the possibility of valued new knowledge across three requirements: Foundational Literacies (which includes ICT), Competencies (which includes Creativity) and Character (which includes Adaptability). Similarly the The Centre for Curriculum Design (CCR 2019) also recognises the importance of foundational knowledge. At question is whether a new set of learning expectations is required to meet the impact of digital on cognition. Expectations that take into account impact on focus, memory, relationships and attitude.

To fully utilise the possibilities for digital within school classrooms we can draw on Digital Classroom: Harnessing technology for the future (John & Wheeler 2008) to seek ways to:

  • extend the classroom
  • provide 24/7 access
  • integrate Real Life with Virtual Life learning
  • provide access to digital resources
  • help streamline feedback (including formative & summative assessments)
  • advance digital literacies (planning, adapting, information literacy, problem solving, creating, collaborating, citizenship)
  • advance media literacies, information literacies and digital life principles
  • provide opportunities for experiential and reflective learning support each student’s learning progress
  • extend & connect learning communities

Life Skills are also important. Digital Life Principles as part of education will need to go deeper on citizenship, ethical and human aspects. Several sources (including Haddlington 2017, Riddle 2015, and Ohler 2010, 2016) point to the need to

  • include students
  • develop a dynamic curriculum to cater for hyper-attention and deep attention objectives
  • understand that a student with a smartphone is a global citizen
  • bring up-to-date teacher knowledge to support and develop
  • cater for the digital effect on cognition that is undergoing generational shift of as little as 2-3 years
  • develop life an REP approach (Respect, Educate, Protect)
  • and work with students view of life as intertwined (RL + VL = Real Life + Virtual Life)

The work of Sherry Turkle (1984, 1995, 2011) on the effect of digital on self, identity and relationships is pertinent.

Question 4: WHEN to use digital technologies within school education

Option One:  Traditional. Leave it to Teacher choice. An expectation championed by Larry Cuban (1987, 2019)

Option Two:  System. Curriculum integration as a system change. A challenge too far for most

Option Three:  Romantic. Only by revolutionary change to education will digital lead to better futures

Option Four:  Political. Leave it to external political and economic forces
Option Five: Bridge Building. Look for ways to harness digital as a personal learning medium with deep understanding of human needs, conditions and challenges.

Question 5: WHO should be responsible for educational technology choices?

As before – should it be Teacher Choice
… Or driven by Student Options
… and where does Training / PD / Teacher Learning
… and what are the dangers or opportunities from external political and commercial interests

Where can one find leadership in schools? From industrially situated classrooms to schools as social communities, leadership requires energy to go beyond the inherent limitations. Leadership that leads by example through inclusive approaches. The alternative seen too often is structuralist gatekeepers.

Going Deeper

To work with educational technologies, or in schools generally, one has to work with pressures that include:

  • Bureaucratic mechanisms allied to fear of a future unknown that work through control of imposed and restrictive boundaries
  • Commercial ‘neoliberalism’ agendas up against (or somethings aligned with) Romantics selling a better (unknown) future
  • The political ‘conflict’  and ideological wars that ensue, that include competing use of words such as personalisation, deep learning and transformation.
  • Financial demands and limits on the value of the Teacher
  • Change Rates driven by Moore’s Law. Provides a mecca for ideas but also an adaptability challenge
  • Personal use of digital which has seen adults develop their own individualistic relationship with digital that now impacts back into schools (for students this started through home computing twenty years ago). Now seeing this through increasing divergence between personal and institutional learning agendas.
  • Living in a Digital Age with requirements for new understandings of security, privacy, employment, ethics
  • The nature and intent of School. Contentious (as education always has been since at least when Socrates was convicted of ‘corrupting the youth of Athens’)

What are friends for

It is important to seek out researchers and thinkers worth listening to. They not only inform but should challenge. Beware though of confirmation bias, hero bias, anchoring, bandwagoning, or technocentrism (a Papert (1997) term that has morphed into personal technology preferencing).

I regularly revisit:

  • Seymour Papert (since the mid-1980s) students can take charge of their learning through digital (as empowered learners). Coding as the freest expression of this
  • Larry Cuban (since the mid-1980s) leave it to and support our teachers
  • Socrates (since the 1990s) Educators should question everything in constructive ways that lead and illuminate by example
  • John Dewey (since the late 1980s) active learning and the 4Rs (Real, Relevant, Read into (Researched) and Really cool (engaging))
  • Hannah Arendt (since the 2010s) Beware the bureaucratic non-thinkers. Speak truth to power. Be an active thinker.

In Education, though, one must be careful with certainty and absolutes. Research has underlying philosophical intents that can result in support for both opposing contentions. When you know what a researcher or thought leader will say before engaging the dangers of confirmation bias are all too apparent.

Concluding thoughts

There have been three fundamental digital in school education drivers competing for influence in school education from early on (see Taylor 1980). A view that digital primarily represents a functionalist Tool for application to school. A Tutee view that digital provides a demand to reframe school around empowering students to take more ownership and freedom in their learning. And a Tutor view that digital can be harnessed to provide better teaching environments through augmentation, modification or redefinition.

Over the decades this has seen new representative technologies emerge

Tutor:    PLATO, Successmaker, IXL,…

Tool    : AppleWorks, Office, Google EdApps,…

Tutee:    Logo, Scratch…

The use of educational technologies in school remains conjectural and challenging even after going on four decades of use in schools. Commercial, bureaucratic, financial, change and political pressures combine to try to influence education, school and teacher direction, accountability and standards. Those who want to make effective use of digital for teaching and learning have to contend with a complex interplay which includes the relationship between personal beliefs on digital’s value for learning and system standardised objectives.

The increasing divergence between personal constructed knowledge through digital and School as a system beholden to industrial structures, up against behaviorist agendas and their use of increasingly powerful forms of digital data defines the contemporary digital conflict in education. This has been exacerbated by inequalities but also ameliorated by school community cohesion.

Learning is a lifelong journey. Digital, like books, can provide fuel for the journey that has no end. While not overlooking what has brought us to this point, we can but seek to go deeper and further in our understanding and turn this into opportunities for better student learning for a fast changing, digital charged world.

My evolved driving question:


reflects my belief that we can use digital to better build on the past and open opportunities for a better future.

We are at an important juncture in education’s relationship with digital, with the proponents of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning seeking to redefine what learning should be valued and in what ways (although with links to part agendas that we need to well understand). But we have been here before with the Web and Social Media two recent examples. Will it be any different this time?

I know this point to complexity over simple views. But if we are to make sense for education we need to be simultaneously surfing over the next horizon while thinking about where we come from, where we want to, and what surfboard we want to build and travel on. At heart this is what good education has always been about.

For me education should also recognise that all learning journeys are unique yet interconnected, and we advance through seeking knowledge and understanding the implications of this. From this we can build.


Arendt, Hannah. 1961. The crisis in education. In Between past and future: six exercises in political thought. New York: Viking Press.

CCR. 2016 Redesigning the Curriculum for a 21st Century Education. Available at

Cuban, Larry. 1987. Teachers and machines : the classroom use of technology since 1920. New York : Teachers College Press

Cuban, Larry. 2003.Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Cuban, Larry. 2019. Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice (blogsite)

Dewey, John. 1910.The school and society; being three lectures by John Dewey. Supplemented by a statement of the University Elementary School. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Earl, Lorna. 2013. Assessment as learning: using classroom assessment to maximize student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hadlington, Leigh. 2017. Cybercognition: Brain, behaviour and the digital world. Sage publications

John, Peter, and Wheeler, Steve. 2008.The digital classroom: harnessing technology for the future of learning and teaching. London: Routledge.

Kearney, M., Schuck, S., Burden, K., and Aubusson, P. 2012. Viewing mobile learning from a pedagogical perspective. Research in Learning Technology, 20.

Ohler, Jason. 2010. Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.

Ohler, Jason. 2016. 4 Four Big Ideas for the Future: Understanding Our Innovative Selves. Juneau, AK: Brinton Books.

Papert, Seymour. 1980. Mindstorms: children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York : Basic Books.

Papert, Seymour, 1997 Seymour Papert. “A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future”.

Puentedura, Reuben. 2013. SAMR: Moving from enhancement to transformation. Available at

Riddle, Matt. 2015. Digital Citizenship in Schools: Nine Elements All Students Should Know. Eugene, Oregon : International Society for Technology in Education

Sterling, Leon 2016. Coding in the curriculum: Fad or foundational?  Available at

Taylor, Robert. 1980. The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee. Available through

Turkle, Sherry. 1984. The second self: computers and the human spirit. London: Granada.

Turkle, Sherry. 1995. Life on the screen: identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone together : why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York :Basic Books,

Turner, John. 2012. The difference between Digital Learning and Digital Literacy – a practical perspective. Available at

Turner, John. 2015. Mobile Learning in K-12 Education: Personal meets Systemic. Chapter 13 in Mobile Learning Design: Theories and Application (D. Churchill et al. Eds) Available through Springer at

Tyack, David, and Cuban, Larry. 1995. Tinkering toward utopia: a century of public school reform. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

WEF. 2016 What are the 21st-century skills every student needs?

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Mobile Technologies in Education (6) Using Computational Thinking

Posted by jturner56 on March 3, 2019

  1. Computational Thinking was introduced and best explained in Jeannette Wing’s 2006 paper Computational Thinking
  2. Computation Thinking is a term given to advancing computational science objectives of pattern recognition, decomposition, abstraction and algorithmic design
  3. The relationship between computational thinking, coding, and digital literacy is overlapping although to what extent depends on different perspectives.
  4. Anyone can learn to code through, or MOOCs such as in Coursera and EdX
  5. There are fundamental building blocks that are found in all major coding environments. This includes: data types, objects, conditions, loops, variables, functions, arrays and error management (syntax and logic)
  6. There are also several approaches to learning coding. This includes

    – Tinkering/Bricolage where learners construct with the coding materials at hand (Logo and Scratch were developed with this in mind)
    – Controlling through building a concept toolkit. In early days this was evident in DOS users. More recently with Python
    – Advancing to more abstract conceptual developments, such as through C+ and Java
    – Finally creative app making using environments such as XCode/Swift, App Inventor or Android Studio.

  7. When looking at app development we drew on Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR analysis (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) to aim for something that if we developed it as an app would be more than just substitution
  8. This would be evident in an Information Only App (Substitution), an Interacting App (Augmentation), a Data Collection App (Modification) or a new app that redefines an educational process in a better way
  9. The effect also depends on the teacher, drawing on examples such as word processing, Google Docs and Web searching to show each SAMR level can be the objective
  10. A useful resource is ISTE (2016) Redefining learning in a technology-driven world
  11. Drawing on App Inventor ( – an MIT development with links back to Logo) is useful to see what can be achieved and how the AI tutorials can assist developing understanding. Other choices could have been, and have been included in our school’s overall approach
    – Scaratch and Scratch Jnr for young students to experience coding agency
    – Python for its introduction to abstraction through line coding and then linking to robotic concepts through Micro:Bits
    – XCode for app development / coding because of its media creative environment coupled with its deep abstract power
    – Java also for advanced abstraction power
  12. When developing Apps the importance of clear goal recognition, understanding users, and good planning.



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Mobile Technologies in Education (5)

Posted by jturner56 on February 24, 2019

  1. This week we looked at how best to include mobile technology apps in educating processes…
  2. …starting with the traditional approach (teacher responsible for transmission of provided materials to the student)
  3. …and highlighting the calls for change from the likes of Ken Robinson, Marc Prensky and Will Richardson
  4. …we touched on “adjustments” such as Flipped Classroom and Blended Learning.

  5. Revisiting the Constructionist contention, which Seymour Papert best advocated through calling on teachers to prioritise creating conditions for invention where the learner takes charge of their learning, links were made to Resnick’s advocacy of play as a basis for learning (see Lifelong Kindergarten 2017) and the Makers Movement reflected in Papert apostle Gary Stager (see Martinez & Stager Invent to Learn 2013/2019) as well as related manifestos and research.

  6. After all this we came back to Larry Cuban’s 2018 research-backed observation that after decades of external advocacy there has occurred no fundamental changes in teacher approaches to their teaching and lesson formats. For Cuban the best approach is to appreciate, recognise and support teachers as primary decision makers.

  7. So how best to help improve use of mobile technologies in school education?

  8. Spreadsheets are an interesting app in that it has been around for over four decades, yet is still not ubiquitous in school education despite its strong links to mathematical thinking and analysis.
  9. Using Spreasheeting as a case study, we worked through Project Based Learning (see Buck Institute for more) and Design Thinking (see Stanford for more)

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Mobile Technologies in Education (4)

Posted by jturner56 on February 17, 2019

Recap so far

Week 1:  why use mobile techs?
Week 2:  what apps are useful to consider?
Week 3:  what does the research say?

Week 4: what learning objectives?

  1. This week we looked at Digital Literacy as a means to measure tasks created to advance learning that included use of digital technologies
  2. Starting with those who advocated using computers to advance ‘ICT skills’ within the challenge of ‘traditional’ school expectations such as handwritten exams, subject textbooks and teachers as ‘knowledge experts’ and vioews of students as ‘digital natives’
  3. The WEF (World Economic Forum) three pillars of 21st century learning (foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities) provides an overview of where digital literacy can be valued (as a foundational literacy)
  4. A framework for developing and measuring Digital Literacy was explored, drawing on my 2012 paper. Digital Learning was dismissed as a term with too wide an intepretation
  5. Digital Literacy, first coined by Paul Gilster in 1997, and expanded by Doug Belshaw in 2012 to eight elements, has been organised by me into six considerations (Planning, Adapting, Organising Information, Creating, Problem Solving and Connecting (Collaborating)) across 4 levels (play, use, extend, higher order application)). This structure was used to create and analyse tasks that include digital technology use.
  6. Media Literacy is another literacy with digital considerations. Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman and Richard Myer provided useful insights. We looked at how media requires particular considerations when presenting/recording/creating.
  7. Digital Citizenship is an important considerations for any computer use to ensure students are focused and tasks are engaging (check out commonsensemedia as a useful resources)


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