A new tool for talking writing: LCT and semantic waves

Originally posted on Writing in the Academy:

I completed my PhD last year, and I’m now embarking on postdoctoral research. One of the things I am really excited about is applying my conceptual framework to different kinds of teaching, learning and academic work to the case studies I looked at in my PhD. Specifically, I would like to connect my framework – Legitimation Code Theory – with my academic writing and academic literacies work where possible. This post reflects some of that thinking, so indulge me a little, if you will :).

Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), very briefly, builds on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Basil Bernstein, but subsumes and extends aspects of these two eminent sociologists’ work to create a conceptual and analytical ‘toolkit’ that enables researchers to ‘dig’ beneath what they can see on the surface to find the organising principles underlying practices. It is a critical realist framework, and in terms of my own…

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Posted by on September 2, 2015 in Uncategorized


Do You Listen to Your Students?

Originally posted on

Expanding the role of students in technology decision-making at the school and district level.

GUEST COLUMN | by Theresa Soares and Jon Phillips

CREDIT Dell Youth Innovation 3If ever there was a generational divide between faculty and students, it has never been greater than now. Rather than a challenge to be overcome, this presents a phenomenal opportunity to change the role of students in traditional education institutions and empower them to take a more active role in their learning. It has been widely stated that many students in school today will work in jobs that do not yet exist. While districts nationwide are striving to meet the challenge of preparing tomorrow’s workforce with century-old models of education, consensus is building that we must find a way to bring about substantive changes. The use of technology in the classroom holds much promise to bring about that change but we’ve failed to leverage it to its…

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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


The 4 Things Your School’s Social Media Feed Needs to Include

Originally posted on Evolving Educators:

Printed with permission of Printed with permission of

The use of social media in schools and school districts has gone from a novel way of spreading news and information to an essential method of communicating with school stakeholders. However, those who are in charge of the school’s social media feed don’t always include the most important items.  As a result, they don’t draw the followers and interest that should be present in the social media feed. Here are four things your school’s social media feed need to assure you are maximizing connections with your stakeholders:

  1. Diversification of posted information: Lots of people want to know about the next game or the upcoming days off from school. But by just posting just one type of event you are limiting your audience and telling them that other things happening in the school or district are not as important. Post information on a Family Science…

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Posted by on August 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Here Again: The Old Chestnut about Technology Increasing Student Achievement

Originally posted on Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:

There are many reasons why school boards buy hardware and software (see here)  still the old chestnut that “students will achieve more academically with ________ (put your device or software du jour here) lingers on in the minds of enthusiasts as a sweat-filled dream. Sure, vendors and consultants paid by high-tech companies produce “white papers” or research studies that tout gains in students’ academic performance. No longer authoritative reports, “white papers” have become marketing tools. Like sponsored advertising in the media, such “white papers” want to sell readers on the merits, not the complexities of either teaching or learning in using devices. And there are reports by professional associations that cherry pick individual studies.  Yet those policymakers, superintendents, district administrators, principals, and teachers who swear that their decisions are driven by evidence and research embrace a desert mirage whenever they  cite a “white paper” or say…

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Posted by on August 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


Why should I Remember it, if I can Google it?

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I remembered the quote, of course, but had to Google who said it. It was Alphonse Karr, the nineteenth century French critic, journalist and novelist. That just about sums up my relationship with Google. As one who was born before the Internet, I tend to rely on my memory, but I use Google to double-check, and find out the bits I don’t know, or have forgotten. My sons, digital natives, born in the Internet Age, seem to have a different approach entirely. When my eldest came home and announced that he had to learn a list of a thousand words for his Latin exam, I was horrified that his teacher could have given them such a list just before the exams and expected them to learn it virtually overnight! Then I found out he’d been given the list eighteen months previously!

latinWhy hadn’t he bothered to learn the words when they were given to him? Well, it appears that you can use Google translate to meet all your Latin vocabulary needs, so there’s no pressure  to memorize long lists to do your homework! His marks had always been good so he never felt the need to commit the words to memory

And then I found out that in his Physics exam they are given the formulae, given the periodic table, given everything that back in my day we had to learn off by heart!

With 24/7 access to Google, it seems that memory is dead!

Except that it isn’t! To use Google at all you need something inside your own head, something to guide your searches, and to assess the validity of what comes out at the other end! To evaluate any search engine query implies a scaffold of knowledge upon which you can hang the new knowledge. While the Internet presents an enormous potential for expanding, and holding our knowledge, it cannot replace knowledge itself. It cannot replace the thought processes and thinking that went into creating it, or the thinking that goes into recreating it in our own heads.

This puts me in mind of Daniel Kahneman’s notion of Fast and Slow Thinking. He characterises two types of thought – System 1 thought, which is fast, subconscious, stereotypical thought. We reach conclusions based on recognised patterns and deeply ingrained metaphorical categories. System 2 thought, on the other hand is slow, effortful, consciously arrived at: logically thought out thought. It is far less frequent than system 1! With the same inputs, the conclusions reached by these two types of thought may be entirely different.

Both these types of thought are necessary, or at least unavoidable. Sometimes we need to act quickly, and reach conclusions rapidly. We cannot always retire to a barrel like Diogenes to think things out thoroughly. The main purpose of a sound education, framed this way, is to create deeply ingrained habits of thought which will render our fast thinking more efficacious and sound. If we are used to thinking issues through, our initial intuitions should be more thoughtful. Hopefully. If we have spent time learning how to think things through logically and thoroughly, our basic instincts should be more sound.

I have a suspicion that our relationship to memory needs a similar division into what we have committed to memory,and what we have available to us stored in our network! We cannot possibly remember everything! We have at our fingertips an almost instantly available resource allowing us to find out just about anything, anywhere, any time. This may include facts and information that we have not previously processed in our minds. We need this type of information often to make quick decisions about whether to sell our shares in South American zinc, or to determine what snake has just bitten us, and what action to take. A quick Google search revealed that indeed researchers talk about two types of memory. Memory which is external, stored on paper, in group knowledge or, increasingly on computers or networks is called transactive memory.

We also need, however, a wide range of information committed to memory which allows us to assess and evaluate other information. I have a feeling that anyone who tries to use Google translate, for example, to read Cicero in Latin will come completely awry unless they already have a large number of Latin words in their memory already. According to research (Sparrow, et al, 2011), we apparently remember far less when we know we will be able to Google the answer when we need to. We are growing more dependent upon remembering where we can find the information that we need, than in actually remembering the information. We are in short, becoming symbiotic with our machines.

This is a somewhat disturbing thought, but the growing importance of transactive memory indicates the increasing degree to which our cognition is social. It is easy, though, to draw the conclusion from this that we do not need to memorize anything anymore. I suspect it simply means we will have to remember more, so that all that extra information we can access, makes sense!


Betsy Sparrow, et al. Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips, Science 333, 776 (2011); DOI: 10.1126/science.1207745


Dragging the Classroom Kicking and Screaming into the 21st Century

The SAMR model for the integration of ICTs into the classroom is a typical example of the way in which the introduction of ICTs is seen as transformative. It shares with models such as the Apple Classrooms Of Tomorrow (Entry, Adoption, Adaptation, Appropriation, Invention) and the various models adopted by the United Nations, the notion that ICTs are a force for dragging the classroom kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

The model suggests that teachers will move from merely substituting traditional technology with ICTs, for example replacing a chalkboard with an Interactive White Board, to redefining what they do in the classroom, using the affordances of new technologies to re-conceive of their pedagogy. In other words technology will “disrupt” educational practice. This vision is often presented as one which will champion a movement away from Instructivist (teacher-centred) towards Constructivist (learner-centred) pedagogies.

While I am in agreement that ICTs can be a force for more learner-centred approaches, there are several problems with the way the debate has been framed.

Firstly, the relationship between teaching and learning is not a simple one-to-one mapping. While the balance of power between different learning theories has shifted over the last fifty years from the dominance of Behaviourism in the mid 1900s towards the triumph of Constructivism, and the emerging ideas around Connectivism. While, obviously, hopefully, there is a connection between what a teacher does, and how a student learns, this connection is not necessarily a direct or simple one. If a teacher delivers a lecture it does not invalidate the Constructivist notion that students construct knowledge in their own minds, and do not simply receive it into their heads from the mouth of the teacher: ie knowledge is constructed, not transferred. While Constructivism clearly favours notions of active learning, just because I am passively listening, does not mean that I am not actively constructing ideas within my brain! As any teacher knows, sometimes you need to tell. Instruction is often the most efficient way of getting an idea across, especially with older kids and adults! Discovery learning suffers from a central contradiction, the Scholars Dilemma, how do you discover something you don’t know exists! Sometimes, often actually, one does need to be told things!

A common way of framing the ICT debate is to argue that ICTs will shift the balance from the lecture towards problem-based, inquiry-based learning. While this is broadly valid, what it overlooks is that this is largely an argument for what learners ought to be doing. It doesn’t necessarily speak to what teachers ought to be doing. I totally agree that classrooms should become places for inquiry and active learning. However, I disagree that this means that the lecture is dead! The Guide on the Side is an argument for dereliction of duty, the teacher becomes a mere facilitator who stands back and watches from the sidelines. The teacher should be the meddler in the middle, intimately and closely involved in the learning of her students, sometimes being the sage, sometimes being the guide, but always involved. I find that most of my lessons involve short bursts of instruction followed by discovery and guided practice, or, of course the other way round.

One argument for ICTs that accords well with this conception is the Flipped Classroom Approach, which sees the teacher’s time as being maximised by actively assisting and engaging with students rather than in delivering content, something ICTs can do quite adequately.

Secondly, the model assumes that Education needs disrupting! I do not necessarily disagree with this point, but the model, with its insistence that ICTs will, at its most advanced levels, transform education, frames itself as a challenge to teachers to do things differently: not just in terms of using ICTs, but also in terms of pedagogy. This assumes that teachers are not doing things properly at the moment, and this alone may explain why teachers feel threatened, and reluctant to adopt ICTs. My reading of teachers is that most teachers adopt different strategies and deploy their pedagogical understandings on a more or less opportunistic and ad hoc basis. There are times when I need to mediate content or concepts for students, and times when I want them to use their knowledge and skills to explore problems or learn how to research issues and frame their new understandings in ways which increasingly resemble the academic language and ways of thinking demanded by the discipline they are studying. The core business of education is the same today as it was, well, thousands of years ago!

When Socrates guided his students towards understanding through dialogue, the pedagogy he pursued was no less valid than problem-based learning for example. One of the great strengths that teachers deploy is their ability to select strategies and activities that will best support learning in their own contexts from the multiple approaches and theories on display. Models such as ACOT and SAMR tend to assume a linear movement in which, over time, a teacher will come to appreciate that one method, or technology is best! This idea is deeply flawed, and downright dangerous!

The SAMR model uses the metaphor of a swimming pool. One implication is that some uses of technology are shallow, and others deep. This is somewhat misleading. What if I am substituting collaborative writing in groups to Google Docs? My pedagogical purposes are not shallow or trite even though I am merely substituting one technology (paper-based editing) for another. On the other hand I could be using a new technology (skype) for an entirely trivial task. My task would be seen as being in the deep end because it would be impossible to achieve without the new technology, and yet my pedagogical purpose might be negligible


Clearly what is meant is that teachers should be challenged to map the affordances of technology to meaningful pedagogical practices, and encourage Higher Order Thinking, not that we should be trying to get so creative with technology that we lose sight of what we are trying to do in the classroom. If technology does provide new and exciting ways of achieving what could not be achieved without it, then well and good, but clearly teachers should be encouraged to seek out good educational practice first and foremost, rather than innovating for the sake of innovating.

My third reservation with the model is a related point that the process of integration is not linear. One does not start at one end of the swimming pool and as one gets better at it, end up in the deep end. Perhaps the metaphor still holds if one visualizes teachers swimming laps, going up and down, being at different stages at different times. And yet even this formulation is less than helpful because it does not help to explain why a teacher would choose one solution above another. Teachers choices of technology surely cannot be determined crudely by a linear progression based on whatever criteria are used?

Surely teachers make the choices they do because they can see a benefit to how they teach a particular unit of work.

imagesA better metaphor would then be that of a craftsman reaching for a particular tool depending on what it is that they are doing at the time. Experience will have shown the craftsman what tool works best in what context. The model shown on the right was developed by Angeli and Valanides to describe how teachers map the affordances of technologies to content they wish to deliver using pedagogical approaches which will work with particular students in particular contexts.

The diagram may not be as pretty or as catchy as the others out there, but it describes far better what happens with real teachers in real classrooms. In the interplay of Knowledge, Pedagogy and Technology, somehow teachers are muddling through!




Taking the Padagogy Wheel for a Spin

Originally posted on Designer Librarian:

The Padagogy Wheel has become a very popular technology integration tool for teachers, combining Bloom’s Taxonomy with the SAMR Model and aligning iPad and other tablet apps to those criteria(hence the name PADagogy). I can see why it has been embraced by so many educators — it’sa visual planning guide fortechnology-based lessons.

So, what happens when you take the app section of the wheelfor a spin? What happens when you shift the apps ring in either direction, so that the apps in the Remember/Understand section fall into the Apply section, or the Create section, etc…? Is the wheel any less valid? Absolutely not!We’re not talkingabout Bloom’s Technology, we’re talking aboutBloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains. Technology merely serves as atool that can be used to facilitate learning within those domains. What level of learning depends on how the appis used. How the app is used depends on the learning…

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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


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