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Department of Education

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Dr. Jo Bjørkli Helgetun discusses teaching in the digital age in this blog about his research into the teacher professionalisation app Teacher Tapp.

Teacher Tapp is a smart-phone app developed by the company Education Intelligence in June 2017, after originating as a Nesta and Gatsby foundation funded research project. The app migrated to the publicly funded higher education institution Arteveldehogeschool in Flanders, the Netherlands by the summer of 2020 where it is run on a licence from Education Intelligence. The app claims to be a voice for the teaching profession, a research tool, and a teachers’ professional development device. They do so through daily surveys of teachers where the results are available in the app the next day, as well as through the promotion of blogs through their “daily reads”. The app currently has close to 10,000 daily users in England and 2,000 daily users in Flanders, and its data has been cited in policy documents and parliamentary debates.

On the surface, the app is a neat package that functions the same way in England and Flanders and provides a form of professional voice-by-vote to its users. However, as we move beyond the app’s graphical interface, we start to see that the data streams take on multiple forms¹ with implications for our understanding of the teaching professions and the future of teachers’ professional lives in the digital age. These differences manifest in different spaces such as between England and Flanders, or between fora such as social media, blogs, policy documents, or parliamentary debates.

For example, there appears to be a great difference between England and Flanders in regards to the place of profit (and private entities in general) in education. In England, Education Intelligence sells a range of products such as the possibility to ask questions in the app or to have them conduct in-depth analysis based on data from the app. By contrast, this is not possible in Flanders as it would be seen as unethical. Instead, all questions are asked by researchers at Artevelde (users can suggest questions), and the data is only analysed by them for their use. This has led to something of a conundrum, where even though Education Intelligence can be said to offer a pay-to-speak model, they at least provide some recourse for people to influence what is on the agenda in the Teacher Tapp app that is not present in Flanders. Indeed, much resistance in Flanders towards the app by researchers seem to centre on this lack of opportunity for others to ask questions on the app. Moreover, there has been much general scepticism about the validity of the approach and even the place of such direct democracy (type of teachers’ voice) in a society historically characterised by social dialogue between unions, the state, and school organisations in the so-called “pillared society” of Belgium. Such dialogue is completely absent in England, where teachers and researchers in education alike often feel they are shouting at a wall as their voices go unheard.

Meanwhile, the fit of Teacher Tapp in the existing “evidence”-based paradigm in education policymaking in England is evident. For example, data from Teacher Tapp has been referenced four times in parliamentary debates to either defend or attack government policy, where the source of data seems arbitrary and the method of delivery follows well established practices of reading short numbers-centred sound bites from a prepared list of answers. Moreover, when cited in the white paper “Opportunity for all: Strong schools with great teachers for your child” the discourse centred on too many primary teachers having to do their own planning (a failure of schools) and was used to set up new policy goals. The policy as presented in the paper did not come from a deeper study with much scientific rigour, and the question was a minor point in a Teacher Tapp blog that was focused primarily on phonics, but it is a classic example of policymakers shoehorning in numbers that fit the narrative. Unsurprisingly, the reported main problem in regards to planning – a lack of time – was ignored in the white paper.

Interestingly, the data as presented in the cited Education Intelligence blog’s text had also undergone a transformation in relation to the raw data (which was also presented), because they employed their own discourse. These results were themselves weighted, meaning they differed from the results shown in the apps graphical interface. This illustrates how data can be presented in different forms as it moves from a mobile app into a blog and/or a policy document.

These observations, and others², arguably reveal a range of things. Firstly, as new technology is created and spreads across different borders in our ever-globalising world, they take on new forms and are received differently based on pre-existing local structure and cultures. Secondly, we note the many different logics regarding what is permissible in education, as well as how teachers are to be able to speak up, between such close places as Flanders and England. Thirdly, as voice becomes quantified and turned into “evidence” it takes on a life of its own as the data streams flowing from an initial 3-5 questions are transformed to take on different meanings across contexts such as Twitter, policy document, or political discussion.

As such, the notion of Teacher Tapp as a new form of voice for teachers raises important questions as to what is a professional voice, how can one speak up in relation to one’s professional life, and does Teacher Tapp fit into the ongoing digital revolution where data is increasingly fed into algorithms and forms of AI with unknown consequences. The computer knows (or pretends to know) more about us than we ourselves do. So in the end who does the speaking? The teacher who answers the survey? Education Intelligence or Arteveldehogeschool who formulate the questions and conduct cross-analysis between a range of data sources? Someone else who obtains the data from the app, Twitter, or by purchasing it from Education Intelligence and then running it through a form of AI-based analysis to determine what teachers actually want? What about the voice of the 1.1 million teachers who do not use an app like Teacher Tapp? We hope to be able to answer some of these questions through our study. Our first paper titled “One thing can be more than one thing: A comparative study of the teacher professionalization app ‘TeacherTapp’” is currently under review for publication.

 

Some links to further reading:

The website for Education Intelligence can be found at: www.teachertapp.co.uk

The website dedicated to Teacher Tapp at Arteveldehogeschool can be found at: https://sites.arteveldehogeschool.be/deleraandenkt/

For an overview of the company Education Intelligence see https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/10825354/filing-history?page=2

 

¹  In more technical terms these “forms“ are what in Science and Technology Studies parlanse are called multiple enactments

²  Due to space limitations in this blog, many examples are left out. However, publications are under review that further demonstrate the points raised in this blog.

Millions of families around the world are using digital technologies to support children’s learning, but are these technologies as educational as they claim to be? How could they be improved? A new research hub launched by the Department’s Learning for Families through Technology (LiFT) project aims to answer these questions.

The Digital Play Family Research Hub invites families with 2-7 year-old children to take part in innovative research to test and develop new educational apps.

The first opportunity to get involved is already up and running. Families with 3-5 year-old children are invited to help researchers design and develop a new drawing app for adults and children to use together to encourage creativity.

Sandra Mathers, Co-Investigator of the LiFT project, said: “It’s important to include the voices of families and children in our project to ensure that our research is relevant and informed by real life experiences. Families can also advise us on the best ways to communicate our research findings. We would love for as many families to take part as possible!”

If you would like to get involved or keep up to date with all the latest news from the hub, sign up on the LiFT Project website.

Abdul Karim has completed a Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering and Computational Medicine (Imperial College London), a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (Queen Mary University of London), and Master of Science in the Philosophy of Science and Economics (The London School of Economics).

He has delivered lectures on the Philosophy of Human Nature and the History of Metaethics at the University of Cambridge and for Health Education East Midlands. This, in addition to the current positions he holds as a Hospital Doctor and Health Policy and Management Advisor at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

Abdul Karim’s current areas of interest include the biological definition of psychological states relevant to the learning environment, and the influence of language on the variable interpretation of a particular social context. For the latter of which he has published primary research.

Another is the appraisal and deployment of physiological measurement devices in learning environments as a means of quantitatively evaluating psychological states. Such research areas hold promise in enhancing the questionnaire-based evidences of contemporary theories in education, such as those regarding motivation, self-determination and engagement. This will to contribute to the evidence-based public policy optimisation in education and social care.

 

Publications

Ismail, A.K. 2017. A Cross Sectional Study to Explore the Effect of the Linguistic Origin and Evolution of a Language on Patient Interpretation of Haematological Cancers. Advances in Biological Research. 11 (4): 225-232.

Ismail, A.K. 2017. The Origin of the Arabic Medical Term for Cancer. Advances in Biological Research. 11 (4): 198-201.

Ismail, A.K. 2018. The Impact of da Vinci’s Anatomical Drawings and Calculations on Foundation of Orthopaedics. Advances in Biological Research. 12 (1): 26-30.

Renyu completed her BA degree in Psychology at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) and her MPhil degree in Education at University of Cambridge.

During her MPhil study, she worked with children aged 4 to 6 years to investigate the relationship between bilingualism, vocabulary size, and inhibitory control, and also to validate a novel app designed to assess early language development. For her Dphil study at Oxford, Renyu aims to explore the factors that might affect L2 pronunciation learning in young children and the interaction between children’s L1 and L2. She is particularly interested in the psychological factors that might influence a child’s L2 pronunciation.

Prior to studying at Oxford, Renyu worked as Research Assistant at the Assessment Research Group at British Council for one year and a half. She was involved in various projects, including gap analysis on reading demand and reading ability, participant feedback questionnaire design and analysis, design and recruitment for a new EAP task study, etc.

Abbey is a Probationary Research Student in the Department of Education, in collaboration with the Department of Engineering.

Before joining the DPhil program, Abbey obtained a B.A. in Applied Linguistics with minors in Russian and Chinese from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MSc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition from the University of Oxford. She was the recipient of a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship through U.S. Department of State for study in Russia and was awarded two Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships for study in both Russia and China. She holds both TESOL and TEFL certificates and has taught English as a Second Language in various contexts to a wide variety of learner populations.

Abbey’s main research interests lie in the use of technology to facilitate language learning. Her DPhil research focuses on the development of a virtual reality program to bridge the gaps that students face when learning languages through distance learning.

Laura is researching the potential of digital games as an informal immersive language environment. Predominantly, she is interested in the language used in online cooperative games and how learners can improve their speaking fluency through gameplay. She wants to adopt an exploratory approach in order to analyse game language as well as observe gaming and track language developments over time.

Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Latin and a Master of Education from Bielefeld University in Germany. She completed her PGCE at Oxford University in 2016 and subsequently taught German, French and Latin at schools in London and Switzerland. She has also gained teaching experience in Zambia and China, and taught adult refugees in Germany. In her Master’s project, she explored language development through films with or without subtitles. She is committed to finding new ways to learn languages with digital media and technology.

JOIN HERE ON THE DAY

 

The Open University has a 50-year history of designing and evaluating innovative technologies for learning at scale.

New open learning platforms and MOOCs can offer courses to thousands of learners. How to design effective learning at large scale? Recently, the OU has adopted an approach of pedagogy-informed design.

In this seminar, Mike will describe this approach to agile software design and give two case studies: Learning as Conversation as a foundation for the FutureLearn platform, and Citizen Inquiry to inform design of the nQuire project as a partnership between the OU and the BBC.

About the speaker

Mike Sharples is Emeritus Professor of Educational Technology in the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, UK and Honorary Visiting Professor at the Centre for Innovation in Higher Education, Anglia Ruskin University. His research involves human-centred design of new technologies and environments for learning. He inaugurated the mLearn conference series and was Founding President of the International Association for Mobile Learning. He founded the Innovating Pedagogy report series and is author of over 300 papers in the areas of educational technology, science education, human-centred design of personal technologies, artificial intelligence and cognitive science.

Audience

This seminar will be of interest to educational technologists, online learning designers, software designers, and education policymakers.

By Dr Rebecca Eynon (Associate Professor between the Department of Education and the Oxford Internet Institute) & Professor Jo-Anne Baird (Director of the Department of Education)

Now that the infamous Ofqual algorithm for deciding the high-stake exam results for hundreds of thousands of students has been resoundingly rejected, the focus turns to the importance of investigating what went wrong. Indeed, the office for statistics regulation has already committed to a review of the models used for exam adjustment within well specified terms, and other reviews are likely to follow shortly.

A central focus from now, as students, their families, educational institutions and workplaces try to work out next steps, is to interrogate the unspoken and implicit values that guided the creation, use and implementation of this particular statistical model.

As part of the avalanche of critique aimed at Ofqual and the government, the question of values come in to play. Why, many have asked, was Ofqual tasked, as they are every year, with avoiding grade inflation as their overarching objective? Checks were made on the inequalities in the model and they were consistent with the inequalities seen in examinations at a national level.  This, though, begs the question of why these inequalities are accepted in a normal year.

These and other important arguments raised over the past week or so highlight questions about values. Specifically, they raise the fundamental question of why, aside from the debates in academia and some parts of the press, we have stopped discussing the purposes of education. Instead, a meritocratic view of education, promoted since the 1980s by governments on the right and left of the spectrum has become a given. In place of discussions about values, there has been an ever increasing focus on the collection and use of data to hold schools accountable for ‘delivering’ an efficient and effective education, to measure student’s ‘worth’ in ways that can easily be traded in the economy, and to water down ideas of social justice and draw attention away from wider inequalities in society.

Once debates about values are removed from our education and assessment systems, we are left with situations like the one now. The focus on creating a model that makes the data look like past years – with little debate over whether the aims should have been different this year is a central example of this. Given the significant (and unequal) challenges young people have faced during this year, should we not, as a society have wanted to reduce inequalities in our society in any way possible?

The question of values also carries through into other discussions of the datafication of education, where the collection and analysis of digital trace data, i.e. data collected from the technologies that young people engage with for learning and education, is growing exponentially. Yet unlike other areas of the public sector like health and policing, schools rarely have a central feature in policy discussions and reports of algorithmic fairness. The question is why?  There are highly significant ethical and social implications of extensive data use in education that significantly shape young people’s futures. These include issues of privacy, informed consent and data ownership (particularly due to the significant role of the commercial sector); the validity and integrity of the models produced; the nature of the decisions promoted by such systems; and questions of governance and accountability. This relative lack of policy interest in the implications of datafication for schooling is, we suggest, because governments take for granted the need for data of all kinds in education to support their meritocratic aims, and indeed see it as a central way to make education ‘fair’.

The Ofqual algorithm has brought to our attention the ethics of the datafication of education and the risk that poses of compounding social inequalities. Every year there is not only injustice from the unequal starting points and the unequal opportunities young people have within our schools and in their everyday lives, but there is also injustice in the pretence that extensive use of data is somehow a neutral process.

In the important reflections and investigations that should now take place over the coming weeks and months there needs to be a review that explicitly places values and ethical frameworks front and centre, that encourages a focus on the purposes of education, particularly in times of a (post-) pandemic.