Attwell @ Preskett, or Don’t Fix It If It Ain’t Broke

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Graham Attwell, in “Open Learning and Contextual Diversity” (Pontydysgu 9.27.10), is critical of some of the ideas in Tom Preskett’s The ‘Open Mode’ – A Step Toward Completely Online (9.24.10). He says, “I think Tom is mixing up a whole series of things here,” and then proceeds to straighten “things” out.

Unfortunately, Attwell’s good intentions are based on statements that are inexplicably confusing. For example, he says, “The move towards Blended Learning was driven by pedagogy and not by a retreat from Technology Enhanced Learning.”

What, exactly, does this mean? One has to wonder if Attwell actually understands the terms that he uses to purportedly set things straight. In fact, “blended learning” and “technology enhanced learning” are one and the same, so is he saying that the move toward blended learning was not driven by a retreat from blended learning? Furthermore, “pedagogy” simply means instructional strategy, so is Attwell saying that the move toward blended learning was driven by instructional strategy? If yes, then what does this mean?

Attwell doesn’t help his cause any when he follows up with “By focusing on the pedagogy of using technology, increasing numbers of teachers have adopted technology as part of their every day practices in tecahing[sic] and learning.” This is tantamount to saying that by focusing on strategies for using technology, increasing numbers of teachers are using technology as part of their every day practice in teaching and learning. A bit circular, wouldn’t you say?

He then says, “This [increased use of technology] is reflected in changes in teachers’ dispositions towards using technology.” But he fails to explain or support this claim that teachers’ attitude toward technology has changed. Circular and begging the question?

Attwell says, “I would also challenge the idea that students are opposed to technology for learning.” This is a strawman. Preskett — and everyone else, for that matter — would challenge this idea, too.

Finally, at the end of the paragraph that generated the quotes above, Attwell says, “Students are opposed to the use of technology which fails to enhance their learning experience, just precisely to the use of technology for managing, rather than learning.” Regarding the first part of the statement, is Attwell saying that Preskett is for technology that fails to enhance learning? From the context, this appears to be the case. And, of course, this is pure nonsense.

What about the second part of the statement, “just precisely to the use of technology for managing, rather than learning”? What does this mean within the context of the sentence and the paragraph? Within the context of education? Beats me, and I’m too tired to spend any more time trying to make sense out of Attwell’s tangled efforts to fix “things” that aren’t broken in the first place.

My guess is that Attwell is philosophically closer to Preskett’s ideas than it might at first appear, i.e., their views are more similar than different. However, Attwell may be reacting to some of Preskett’s observations, which are based on actual field experiences, and their implications. If they sat down to talk over a mug of beer, they’d probably end up nodding more than shaking.

Disclaimer: This response to Attwell’s article has been written without Preskett’s knowledge. The ideas are solely those of the author.

3 Responses

  1. Here’s what I’m speculating that may be what he refers to. In my circles, there’s plenty of teachers who say they are using technology in their classroom. However, when you look closer, they are referring to their own use of technologies such as powerpoint, or keeping electronic grade books or even such overblown technologies such as the Interactive White Board. Then, you have the administrative classroom technologies or learning management systems like Blackboard, Angel and such. So his reference to pedagogically driven technologies may refer to students use of technologies as part of their learning. For instance, in my classes, teachers learn how to have their students create digital stories as a product representative of their understanding of content taught in their class. So perhaps he’s saying that totally online courses exclude this type and level of technology integration and thus he opposes the MOOC conception. Don’t know, just a guess, because his writing is a mess. Worse than mine if you can believe it.

  2. Bob, thanks for the insightful clarifications. Your interpretations are probably correct.

    BTW, your articles are models of clarity. You use simple, everyday language to explain complex ideas so that everyone knows exactly what you’re saying. The mark of good writing is the reader feeling that he’s learned something new, and an effective writer is like an effective teacher: the student leaves the “classroom” feeling smarter. You’re an effective teacher and writer. -Jim S

  3. I’ve just seen all this and it’s a really interesting exchange.

    Firstly, I read Graham’s post on his blog. Interestingly, his blog is one of the best around and I read it avidly. I feel close to the sentiments expressed there.

    Overall, the challenges he makes feel more a result of my points perhaps not being put in the correct context. This is my fault a little bit. Anyway, I posted a response on his blog which I repeat below. I wrote it before I’d read Jim’s and Dr. Bob’s points. Points which I learnt a lot from.

    “Hi Graham,

    First of all many thanks for posting about something I have written. Your blog is one of my core spaces for learning within the blogosphere. Also, it’s Tom Preskett not Prescott (this is common mistake and has probably got something to do with the politician).

    In many ways I agree with your sentiments. I think the context got a little lost when the post was published on the ETCJ – I primarily write for my own blog – but sometime offer posts for the ETCJ because I like the discussion and debate that go on there. Jim often changes the titles (for the better) and my title of “Promoting Distance” gives a better sense of where the post if coming from. Within my educational institution, I’m diverting my energies to helping develop viable distance learning offerings. This consists of working with academics to convert existing face-to-face offering. Overall, this a long journey which we are just starting out on. But I think it’s the right path to take. The quote above reflects the frustration of wasted energies with promoting a blended approach. The reality is that where there is an existing face-to-face offering, the expectation from students and academics of what “proper” teaching and learning looks like is face-to-face. Quite often you simply can’t get past this standpoint. Even where online learning activities are introduced, it’s difficult to get them used and they are often not truly embedded into the learning design. Reading the above quote in isolation probably sends the wrong message. What I’m getting at is where we should be diverting our energies. Or perhaps where I think I should be diverting my energies – in this academic year.

    I am known in my organisation for being the promoter of social software so it seems odd to debate you on this issue. I promote its use whatever the mode of delivery. And you are right that the pedagogy is all important. My point here is that you often cannot get to have this discussion. The walls come up before pedagogy can be talked about. This is area which I find particularly challenging. I’ve reflected on it many times (e.g.

    The point about students is an interesting one. Yes, the driver will ultimately come from students. In my HE organisation, the Institute of Education, I observe anecdotally that for those who attend face-to-face expect face-to-face. Admittedly, we have a more mature and international student population than most.

    Overall, I am advocate of almost all the things you promote in this post – the informal learning, challenging the pedagogy, the mobile learning potential. This is why I read your blog. What I’m talking about in this instance is what we can do in reality to take a small step along the right path.”

    My final point here is that writing this was just as valuable as reflecting and creating a posting for my blog or this journal. I should try and engage in debate more often. If only I had the time.

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