Seminars and Events

All events are held at 15 Norham Gardens, Oxford OX2 6PY unless otherwise stated.

All are welcome to public seminars and there is no need to book. If you are coming from outside the Department and would like to attend any of the other seminars, please contact the convener beforehand.
Click on the title of the event for further information.

Am I a critical realist?

Professor Richard Pring, Department of Education

20 January 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar Room D

Convener: Dr Alis Oancea, Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (Oxford branch)

The paper arises from the recent invitation of Roy Bhaskar ('A Critical Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy') to address his international conference on Critical Realism. Since I did not know what a critical realist is, I was puzzled as to what to say. Hence, this paper is an attempt to find out what critical realism is and whether I am one. Unfortunately Roy has since died and therefore can no longer give judgment. I therefore leave open to the audience to decide whether I should be let into that distinguished club.

About the speaker
Director of Dept. of Educational Studies, 1989-2003; Lead Director of Nuffield Review 14-19 Education and Training 2003-2009; 'Life and Death of Secondary Education for All', 2013; Third and much rewritten edition of 'Philosophy of Educational Research', 2014; Paperback edition of 'John Dewey; philosopher of education for the 21st century', 2014.

Effectiveness of iPad technology in supporting early learning: Critical evidence base

Dr Nicola Pitchford, Associate Professor, School of Psychology, University of Nottingham

21 January 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar Roon G

Convener: Dr Rebecca Eynon, Learning and New Technologies Research Group

In this talk Nicola will describe an exciting programme of research that is exploring the use of innovative mobile technology to support the acquisition of basic skills (numeracy, literacy, English) by primary school children in Malawi and the UK. Nicola is carrying out this work in partnership with the charities onebillion ( and Voluntary Service Overseas. It addresses the ‘grand challenges’ concerning education and disadvantage, notably those outlined in the 2015 Millennium Development goals for Malawi. It will describe the innovative mobile technology interventions developed by onebillion and will discuss the evaluation studies designed and conducted to assess their effectiveness. The focus will be particularly on vulnerable children and how these interventions can support their particular learning needs. The results of these studies provide the critical evidence base that is required prior to scale up. Nicola will conclude by considering the implications of this research for practitioners and policy makers.

About the Speaker:
Dr Nicola Pitchford is an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at The University of Nottingham, UK. Her research expertise lies in the field of developmental neuropsychology, more specifically how the cognitive processes that underpin scholastic progression develop over childhood. Nicola works at the interface of theory and practice. She collaborates with academics from different disciplines (e.g. psychology, medicine, education) and works with practitioners and professionals from a diverse range of fields (e.g. neurologists, neonatologists, oncologists, nurses, educators, companies, charities, non-government organisations, and government officials).

Nicola’s most recent research is exploring the use of innovative mobile technology to support the acquisition of basic skills (numeracy, literacy, English) by primary school children in Malawi and the UK. This exciting programme of work is being carried out in partnership with the charities onebillion ( and Voluntary Service Overseas. The evaluation studies she has designed and conducted, both in Malawi and the UK, have led to global interest following BBC coverage, as her research formed the subject of a BBC Click documentary that was also released on BBC Worldwide News (

Nicola is also Guest Editor for open access scientific journal, Frontiers in Psychology, which is currently publishing a collection of papers reporting on “Using technology to revolutionise learning: Assessment, intervention, evaluation and historical perspectives” (

From critical thinking to intellectual virtue

Dr Ben Kotzee, University of Birmingham

27 January 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar Room D

Convener: Dr Alis Oancea, Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (Oxford branch), jointly hosted with the Religion, Philosophy and Education Research Forum.

Philosophy prides itself on its ability to teach students how to think. In teaching students 'critical thinking', philosophy believes that it serves the academy by straightening out students' thinking. It is for this reason that large (often first-year) courses in critical thinking (or 'reasoning', 'argumentation' or 'informal logic') are often presented as service courses across the university. Evidence whether such courses work, however, is mixed. While high performance on a standard critical thinking course can show mastery of specific critical thinking skills, it does not necessarily demonstrate critical thinking in life in general or - importantly - whether students are inclined to think critically in their lives outside the classroom. With this in mind, the critical thinking movement has begun to study critical thinking behaviours or dispositions in addition to ability at critical thinking. In this talk I discuss what it means to be 'disposed to think critically'. While the field is heading in the right direction, I hold that a focus on dispositions or behaviours is still insufficient to capture what we really expect of students' personal growth towards becoming critical thinkers. Rather than critical thinking skills (and the inclination to apply these skills), I shall hold that students need to develop a number of intellectual virtues. I will sketch what the study of intellectual virtue can contribute in this area and will show how the study of critical thinking should shift focus from studying skills to studying the people who have them.

About the speaker
Ben Kotzee is Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham. He works on applying insights from contemporary epistemology to questions regarding intellectual character development. He has written on the epistemic aims of education and on the nature and development of expertise; he is the editor of Education and Social Epistemology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

Modalities and Mechanisms of Effective School Inspections (Public Seminar)

Melanie Ehren, London Centre for Leadership in Learning

02 February 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar room A

Convener: Professor Pam Sammons, Families, Effective Learning & Literacy Research Group



Learning and New Technologies Research Seminar (title to follow)

Professor Rosamund Sutherland, University of Bristol

04 February 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar Room G/H

Convener: Dr Rebecca Eynon, Learning and New Technologies Research Group

Late have I loved you: Beauty, truth and goodness in the design of learning: St Augustine as curriculum designer for the postmodern era?

Dr Mark Chater, Culham St Gabriel’s Trust

10 February 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar Room D

Convener: Dr Alis Oancea, Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (Oxford branch), jointly hosted with the Religion, Philosophy and Education Research Forum.

This seminar will argue that current curriculum design in several school curriculum subjects lacks an ontology. By referring to subjects such as RE and Citizenship, and elements such as spiritual, moral and social development, I shall seek to establish that the epistemological foundations of these curriculum elements are weak, and require a stronger theoretical rationale based in a longstanding and complex understanding of human existence. Consulting the 5th-century  African philosopher, theologian and teacher St Augustine, and learning from his unofficial trinity of beauty, truth and goodness, I shall seek to sketch out a possible design theory for knowledge in the curriculum of our own era, an era both different from, and similar to his own.

About the speaker
Mark Chater is Director of Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, an educational charity supporting research, development and innovation in school-based Religious Education in the UK. A qualified teacher, Mark taught RE in British comprehensive schools for ten years before becoming a researcher and teacher trainer. He gained his Doctorate in 1997 with a thesis on the changing relationship between confessional and secular rationales for RE. For four years he was the national adviser for RE with the civil service. He is co-author of Teaching the Primary Curriculum, (2002), Developing Teaching Skills in the Primary School, (2007), Mole Under the Fence: Conversations with Fr Roland Walls, (2006) and Does Religious Education have a Future? (2013). He is working on Jesus Christ, Learning Teacher: Where theology meets pedagogy (due 2015). Numerous journal articles and official civil service documents have focused on the nature and purpose of RE, spirituality and values in education, school leadership, and the challenge of raising standards in RE. Mark is passionate about improving RE, resolving its longstanding weaknesses and working collaboratively across belief and national boundaries.

Mobile learning in global health training: What about social justice? (Public Seminar)

Dr Niall Winters, Associate Professor of Learning and New Technologies

16 February 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar Room A

Convener: Dr Rebecca Eynon, Learning and New Technologies Research Group

Niall will discuss emerging findings from the ESRC/DFID-funded project "mCHW: a mobile learning intervention for community health workers” ( The talk will present the background to the project and position his research at the intersection of education, health, technology and social justice.

Niall will present his joint research with Anne Geniets on the framing of global health training with technology from a social justice perspective (Winters & Geniets, in submission). Critiquing ICT for development, he will set out to show how the design, development and implementation of training projects are radically altered when centred on a preferential option for the poor. He will  then discuss the social justice framing in the context of the mCHW project’s empirical work in Kenya, drawing out three key implications: (1) Designing and evaluation applications for the needs of the poor; (2) Redefining the nature of ‘appropriate technologies’ and (3) Implementing pragmatic solidarity, which means developing common cause with those in need in a very practical and realistic manner.



Discrete or continuous change: Can a dynamic representation facilitate development of reasoning in mathematics?

Dr Sue Forsythe, University of Leicester

17 February 2015 16:30 - 18:00
Seminar Room G

Convener: Dr Jenni Ingram, Mathematics Education Research Group

In order to investigate how students develop the concept of inclusivity between classes of 2D shapes I used a Design Based Research method to develop and refine a task, based on a dynamic figure, which students dragged to generate different triangles and quadrilaterals. Pairs of 13 year old students and one whole teaching group worked with the dynamic figure whilst their dialogue and on-screen activity were recorded.  A number of themes emerged from the data, in particular the importance of symmetry in how the students generated the shapes. This was evident when students  dragged to maintain the symmetry (DMS) of the figure, a strategy with the potential to mediate the concept of a ‘dragging family’ of shapes. As such DMS is a ‘dragging utilisation scheme’ in the Vygotskyan sense. However, in order to move towards this understanding it is necessary that students perceive dragging activity on the figure as an action resulting in a continuously changing figure which morphs through an infinite number of shapes. I describe how I used an animation of the figure under DMS as the catalyst to move the students’ thinking towards the ‘dragging family’. My findings suggest that enabling students to view change through continuous rather than discrete representations helped to develop inclusive thinking.

Education, Language and the Social Brain (Public Seminar)

Professor Neil Mercer, University of Cambridge

23 February 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar Room A

Conveners: Professor Harry Daniels and Dr Ian Thompson (OSAT)


Youth Initiative Programme Symposium

A symposium on the results of research into social exclusion

24 February 2015 14:00 - 17:30
Seminar Room A

Convener: Professor Harry Daniels

It is impossible to ignore the existence of young people who are at risk of social exclusion i.e. not being able to access or contribute to what society can offer them. They present economic and social problems for society but they also, often tragically, experience limited life opportunities which do nothing to break the cycle of deprivation. The target group is far from homogeneous; disability, poverty and race intersect in different ways to restrict the opportunities available to them.

The long-term intention is to establish an interdisciplinary Research Centre, in the Division of Social Sciences, which will focus on the lives of the most disadvantaged young people. The Centre’s approach will be to interpret problems of exclusion and under-performance as multi-faceted, requiring inter-disciplinary analyses and inter-professional responses at the level of both practice and policy. Social Sciences at Oxford are well-placed to undertake these analyses and present them in the relevant policy arena. Indeed it could be argued that focusing on the most needy should be a significant element in Oxford’s research profile.

This symposium provides an overview of the research activities that were funded by anonymous donor and those that have developed from within this initiative. We are also very pleased to welcome a panel of key stakeholders in the field who will discuss possibilities for future direction in this field.

For further information and a draft programme contact Phil Richards, Research Secretary

Good Habits of the Mind: Investigating the Normative Role for Intellectual Virtue in Mathematics Education.

Dr Steve Thornton

24 February 2015 16:30 - 18:00
Seminar Room G

Convener: Dr Jenni Ingram, Mathematics Education Research Group

In educational philosophy, much has been written on virtue ethics and its role in moral education, with an emphasis on the moral virtues in the development of character. There is, moreover, a growing literature on the intellectual virtues in education, with emphasis placed predominantly on their role in critical thinking and the cultivation of dispositions essential to the education of critical thinkers. However, little has been written on how the intellectual virtues, as good habits of the mind, might apply to specific curriculum areas and the role they ought to play to foster intellectual engagement and, hence, excellent teaching and learning.

In this seminar I start from an account of the intellectual virtues developed by Hugh Sockett (2012) in which he stresses the overall importance of truthfulness, accuracy, open-mindedness and impartiality. These virtues can be considered as the enabling traits that dispose one to think critically and to engage intellectually with one’s learning. In investigating how these virtues might apply to mathematics education, I consider the normative implications that flow from a commitment to the premise that their cultivation is a key attribute of intellectual engagement in that field.

Sentient schools: educational institutions as software-supported big data platforms and sensing environments

Dr Ben Williamson, University of Stirling

25 February 2015 17:00 -
Seminar Roon G/H

Convener: Dr Rebecca Eynon, Learning and New Technologies Research Group

Abstract: Along with imaginings of the future of the ‘smart city,’ an urban environment highly mediated and augmented by information and communication technologies, the idea of the ‘smart school’ is emerging as part of re-imaginings of the future of education. Various organizations and actors have begun to produce materials envisaging education as a smart, sensor-enabled, software-mediated, data-driven, and computationally-programmable social institution. This presentation will argue that smart schools are emerging ‘fabricated spaces’ being formed out of a mixture of technological fantasies and related technical developments. Such spaces are to be managed and governed through processes written in computer code and proceduralized in algorithms. By interrogating these fantasies of smart, sentient schools, it is possible to discern how particular educational futures are being fashioned, and how schools and students are to be governed. Drawing on a variety of materials, the presentation will survey the key features of emerging smart schools: ⎯ the seemingly ‘sentient’ infrastructures that underpin them
⎯ the constant flows of data smart schools depend on
⎯ students as nodes in ‘learning networks’ whose behaviours can be nudged and tweaked through network effects
⎯ sensor devices, including activity monitors, RFID tags and ID cards, to track and monitor student activities and movements
⎯ students as ‘computational operatives’ who must ‘learn to code’ in order to become ‘smart citizens’ in the digital governance of the smart city
⎯ techniques of dataveillance that enable student data to be used to anticipate their behaviours and pre-empt their futures Significantly, these features are characteristic of a new technocratic way of conceptualizing educational practices and spaces—related to an emerging style of ‘political computational thinking’—and of emerging modes of both ‘real-time’ and ‘future-tense’ digital education governance.

About the Speaker

Dr Ben Williamson is a lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Stirling. His research focuses on digital technologies and educational governance, with particular interests in the participation of think tanks, policy labs and third sector organizations in education policy, and in the emergence of new forms of technologically-mediated ‘digital education governance.’ This presentation will draw on the ESRC funded Code Acts in Education project that Ben is currently leading (

Mathematics Education/Quantitative methods hub joint seminar (title to follow)

Professor Andrew Noyes, University of Nottingham

19 May 2015 16:30 - 18:00
Seminar Room G

Convener: Dr Jenni Ingram, Mathematics Education Research Group

Creating opportunity for digital participation: Integrating computer science in the primary curriculum

Dr Caitlin McMunn Dooley, Georgia State University

27 May 2015 17:00 - 18:30
Seminar Room G/H

Convener: Dr Rebecca Eynon, Learning and New Technologies Research Group

Focusing on design thinking and integrated curriculum design, this research talk will describe an investigation of how to integrate computer science and online literacies into primary classroom settings. Primary computer science is one way to invite learners as digital participants. The study described here will demonstrate how one school is changing curriculum to encourage digital participation. Theories about participatory digital practices, constructionism, and empowering/emancipatory education offer teachers a foothold for curricular innovation. However, new theories about how to engage learners (and teachers) in meaningful and meaning-making digital practices continue to develop as teachers take up and use these theories in the contexts of schools and learning.

About the speaker:
Caitlin McMunn Dooley, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at Georgia State University in the US. Her research focuses on digital literacies, early literacy development, and teacher development.

Concepts and Mastery in Learning and Teaching Mathematics

Dr Alf Coles, University of Bristol

11 June 2015 16:30 - 18:00
Seminar Room G

Convener: Dr Jenni Ingram, Mathematics Education Research Group