Der innovation trap


Volkswagen engineers in the 80s were allowed to fiddle with the Golf. They came up with the Golf GTi and therein changed the perception of small-car and sports cars. No longer a three-box saloon or drop-top two seater, the Golf GTi set a new standard. Volkswagen not only made money, but created a new department withing the company – some 50 years after it was making Beetles. Those engineers created something new – and – something that has a legacy and sustained impact on the company – and the driver.

Volkswagen needed to keep with innovation at Peugeot. Peugeot were outselling them and people were buying less Volkswagens. Heinz Kreller, a clever engineer suggested to VW that they produce a new version of the Golf, one which was based on many of the components of the new Golf (VW had finally killed of it’s archaic Beetle design from the 1930s). Kreller said he could improve performance without breaking the bank and they’d sell more cars and open a new market. The management appointed Kreller as the “Head of GTi Engineering”. Intead of building the GTi, Kreller leaned over the course of the next year, he was allowed to make the odd comment at senior engineering meetings, and despite positive feedback, his dream of a GTi never materialised. A few of his ideas were taken on-board (The Golf GT, the Passat GT and Polo GT). Kreller didn’t make the GTI, he just hung around talking about his GTi idea to anyone who’d listen – it didn’t take too long for people to avoid him, not least because they had new jobs such as “Head of Golf R Engineering” and didn’t want him to feel bad about their own rise to success.


What are your assessments desgned for?

The purpose of giving kids a marking guide is to allow them to find concrete elements to address and strive to accomplish. The purpose of an assessment is to see the point of failure, how the teacher can improve the learning experience, and the point at which how they were learning stopped working for them. Yet is seems teachers believe the point of assessment is to hand out As, Bs and Cs to stick in a report.

Assessment for; of and as learning have quite different purposes – but need to work together. I wince at the word-salad teachers put into ‘assessments’ rubrics, which students struggle to decode. This is because they focus on of learning.

Straight outta the syllabus, it might make a NESA inspector’s day, but it certainly doesn’t help students get better or promote deeper engagement in the long term.

The fog bank rolls in and later students learn they ‘got a B’.

A B is good, right?

Does Overwatch teach Emotional Literacy?

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I found this passage interesting. I seem to have a growing interest in emotional literacy and I don’t see myself as a people expert. It seems to me that any environment that requires risk or functions in a state of change or growth needs this. I’ve never been a fan of authoritarianism and have perhaps read Seth Godin’s blog for too long to believe that successful innovation is a result of locking down the human condition to follow all the rules all the time as Roffey suggest here. At the same time, I live in a time where power-over-others appears to be a fascination and widely promoted by a rising political class for whom unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive.

This isn’t limited to politics but has been widely adopted by corporations. Within it, some seem to believe pursuit their own self-interest without regard to the impact of their actions on others.


Games seem to be a simulation for this: some players simply pursue their personal goals, yelling, screaming and trolling other players. They seem oblivious to the fact the game is designed to promote team-work. Time and again, the altruistic team wins. They have better communication, better emotional literacy and understanding of changing parameters than others. In Overwatch, the game punishes the Rand-like player – but it also punishes everyone else. It’s one of the games biggest problems. Quitters may be banned for a short time, but this has no impact on those they left behind — and who are well aware the chances of winning are remote. Yet they usually play on, aware of the behaviour and remain engaged in making the best of it.

Perhaps these games are providing players with the kind of emotional literacy that many adults around them lack – or serve to highlight the problematic behaviour of those who are more than willing to pour scorn on others – or worse – and perhaps learn to recognise it in real life. I have a huge dislike of anyone who powers their own happiness wagon at the expense of some poor sap whos powerless to avoid them. If only logging off was so easy in real life.

The emotional literacy of a school seems to play a huge factor in their emergent success. It’s not often discussed, but it seems almost all the successful break-out schools have a fundamental understanding of community, shared experience and spend vast amounts of effort supporting people – even if they make a mistake (which humans do all the time).

Anyway, dear reader — I’ve been pondering the connection between MMOs and Emotional Literacy … I’ll keep pondering.

All talk and no values.

Are schools stuck in a ninety-day cycle where today’s directive will expire in ninety days, to replaced by another – often disconnected and un-related set of directives? Why is this happening? Are we in a culture of all talk and no value?


One factor which has emerged from today’s ‘always on’ culture is group acceptance that change is both constant and easily demanded of subordinates. Teachers are often asked to describe the ‘value’ of their current unit of work or approach to learning. Those who teach and understand a subject don’t need to talk about it, and those who don’t understand it, will not also understand the talk about it. And yet, this is a constant demand in meetings and corridors.

Rationally, this ‘talk’ is almost useless, yet teachers in the ninety-day cycle are constantly being asked to talk about (justify) their practice – and in part, this is driven by our use of media. We love to talk, often to strangers, and give the Internet our advice on an array of topics – using thin evidence provided. Who hasn’t explained what’s wrong with that brake-caliper based on some shitty iPhone image to some random in Romania? This might sound facile but it’s exactly what teacher’s do online every day.  Teachers online love permissivism.

This tends to lead to people talking about the ‘good’ rather than the inadequacies because the ‘talk’ is driven by psychological factors. They respond by reinforcing the dominant view of those who have the power to demand ‘talk’ or people they hope to cosy up to. Most people will talk about the positive because it’s far less likely to be taken as a challenge or result in being in the out-group. This is even truer if you’re casual or temporary I guess.

Whether online or in-school, the ninety-day cycle is governed by the psychological state of those in a position to demand ‘talk’ from others. Be that Drumph on guns or the Head of Maths on why he hates Mathletics. It tends to reinforce the dominant person’s worldview and a useful flashpoint to discipline anyone seen as a rival or holding a different position.

Holding different position might simply mean understanding the subject – not a challenge to a duel at dawn – but that’s how some people take it. Avoid them, they can’t be saved and dead-end debates are un-winnable with logic, reason or evidence.

It should be obvious that reasonable people can disagree, even when confronted with the same body of evidence, but the one who holds the most power will claim to be more reasonable and more correct. Reason doesn’t prevent workplace issues such as gaslighting and bullying, however.

The slow-burning norms that underpin schools were shattered by dynamic injections of information technologies over a decade ago. Let’s call this ‘talk’. The ninety-day cycle is dominated by ‘talk’ about what is rational. It is served to us by a shifting platform of so-called ‘evidence’ – some of it little more than click-bait or attempts by individuals to appear correct, intelligent, innovative and so on.

Take for video games for example. The recent school-shooting has produced an array of evidence that video games promote violence, as evidence that school shooters play violent games. I can ‘talk’ about this, but I doubt I’ll shift anyone’s sense of reality because I am highlighting the inadequacies of media education; social understanding; parental regulation; school curriculum etc., Video games are therefore caught in the ninety-day cycle where they are sometimes fantastic and sometimes evil. We are left to talk about the ‘value’ of games as well as the values of those who play them more than the value of learning from them. It’s an ever-diminished set of ‘talks’ which are easily dismissed or ignored by individual gatekeepers who neither understand them or care.

For me, the ninety-day culture is a big problem. It reinforces authoritarian cultures as being rational and over-values ‘talk’ as a way to tackle the inadequacies and issues. A decade ago ‘talk’ was seen as a way to break the chains, but now it’s mainstream and is the chains. It places anyone with a different (or expert) view in negative social-territory and therefore discourages change and innovation.

Whether using games, books, or Mrs WhoTube, we also know what the current hero-talk culture of celebrating the minority (awards, social media amplification, puff articles) encourages the ninety-day cycle. It’s rational to think Mrs WhoTube is changing teachers in the ninety-day cycle, but research shows she’ll add little ‘value’ in the long term.

Studies have shown time and again that values education meets Australian societal desires. Most schools ask their community what they value most: Responsibility; Respect; Honesty; Tolerance; Equality; Freedom; Compassion; Happiness; Excellence and Peace. This seems perfectly rational – and I’d argue every school survey of parents and students will include these elements because they are part of the national ideology.

In 2002, the Minister for Education commissioned a report into Australian School Values. The research identified a range of challenges – which I argue are the central topics of ‘talk’ in the ninety-day cycle culture:

how to increase student engagement and minimise student disconnection to schooling; how to tackle violence, anti-social behaviour and behaviour management issues; how to improve student and staff health and well-being; how to foster improved relationships; how to build student resilience as a antidote to youth suicide and youth substance abuse; how to arrest declining youth civic participation; how to foster student empowerment; and how to reform whole-school cultures.

They concluded that schools which didn’t promote authoritarian structures where individual belief determines the ‘character of the school or students’ is a better place to learn and work. Where leaders avoided individual criticism – a more sustainable and harmonious culture takes hold.

This highlights how individualism doesn’t work – ie this weeks media-hero has no impact (neither good or bad) – and that those locked in the ninety-day cycle of change fail to create any value. As the band Super Organism say …  “Everybody wants to be famous”. 

The report argues that Values-Based Education requires an environment that recognises the limitations imposed by dogmatic power-structures – which really only work for a few people with the power to direct/diminish.

A high performing environment is one where


  • recognition that values education is best developed with a whole-school, total-school culture approach
  • promoting engagement of school staff, parents and students in a school-based cycle of reflection-articulation-publication-enactment of its values
  • recognition of the diversity of values and the value of diversity in school communities, and for the need to negotiate a set of common shared values within this diversity
  • recognition that school-based values education is more effective when the values espoused are congruent and consistent with the values enacted within the total-school environment
  • recognition that values interact with and are integral to all key learning areas, and that all teachers are teachers of values even though schools may choose not to engage in syllabus-specific values teaching and learning
  • the need to support effective teacher professional development and resourcing in values education.

In order to achieve these students need to access multiple, competing curriculums which schools and parents can choose from, according to their own values, tastes, preferences, and philosophies of education. To me, this is personalisation – the current Holy Grail of technology-enhanced education.

It’s likely that the attrition between and within schools over ‘values’ and ‘talk’ will continue to produce winners and loser for some time to come – as right now, we’re overly invested in hero teachers, ninety-day trends, celebrities, brand marketing cycles and the status of a few with the power to chase off rivals or gaslight issues which they are by design, unable to solve – but it is possible … maybe.


The development of thinking: still good.

When it comes to groups working together, I’m a fan of Malcolm Knowles. Knowles recognised the value of time invested in the development of thinking.

While teachers promote the importance of ‘digital literacy’, they often fail to acknowledge the lack of autonomy that teachers provide children in their learning – and the almost unlimited ability children have out of school to develop their thinking and independence – not least though games and multiplayer worlds.

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The challenge seems to be that many institutions spend vast amounts of time being authoritarian and trying to control people. Ironically, responsibility for the results of this no longer rests with the organisation (or its managers), but passed to the individual (teacher and student). It’s a weird waterfall effect. At the same time, the more liberal views of how schools should work and how teachers should teach have been widely disseminated to the public. More open, more collaborative, fewer rules, more freedom. The worst incarnations of this suggest technology is the mechanism for this.

Schools are not places for corporate refugees to try Toyota management tactics, nor a place to experiment with ideas which can’t be scrutinised and verified. However, we’ve had almost 70 years of academics promoting the value of autonomy, collaboration and developmental thinking. None of them said wait for Microsoft or Google to make an app for that.

What do kids use technology for?


There are several factors which influence what children you technology for. While it is easy to be critical of what they are doing right now, it’s important to understand each technology has a particular significance in their lives and is subject to ongoing efforts by parents, teachers and others with a vested interest to sway them in particular directions or to adopt particular behaviours. A decade ago, people were arguing Web2.0 would reform how children learn despite those technologies having no social history to speak of – aside from video games. A few did make videos or write a blog in the modality that made early adoptor teacher get excited, but most kids didn’t – and they still don’t.

There are four uses for technology in the lives of children. Each of these contribute to the over-used and under-developed concept of screen time: passive consumption (binging on Netflix, swiping through miles of Insta posts from streamers and pop-culture influencers etc.,); interactive consumption (video games mostly); communication (maintaining ‘your story’ on social media, tagging friends and belonging and content creation (streaming, recording, sharing and managing audience channels – Twitch, YouTube etc.

In school, I’d argue that very few children would conceptualise their use of technology in the classroom in any of the four, but instead tend to describe themselves as ‘doing work on the laptop’ or ‘going on Google Docs’ meaning that they still don’t connect the activities they are directed (required) to do at school with any of the things they would choose to do if left to their devices. Of course, I accept there are exceptions – however, my point is that ‘screen time’ is a term used to demonise children’s use of technology by a cadre of adults including parents and teachers who, for their own reasons prefer children simply did what children are ‘supposed to do’ with technology. As they appear to be unable to define what this is, we are left with headlines about ‘too much screen time’ and how personalisation will, in the future, make learning with technology more fun, engaging and effective.

From my stance – as a teacher – I’m willing to accept that the four things which make up just about all of their screentime usage stand well outside the activities I’m asking them to do. I am simply fortunate enough to be leeching off some digital skills and literacies that they have picked up so far, but this is far from uniform or consistent. I have to, therefore, accept that I am teaching them how to do things with technology that remain alien to them in their personal lives.

Most importantly, when they can’t do something (school tech task vs personal tech task) it is always MY problem and it’s a cop-out to hear people blame screen time. The school has never been in sync with children’s media preferences and technological practices in society – not before Web2.0, not during and certainly not now. As new tools arrive in schools, each teacher has to both learn the tool and figure out how to teach them to use towards any given learning episode. It’s rather ignorant to believe teachers are creating ‘digital citizens’ and that what happens in school should/could be transferred to ‘real life’.  What good teachers do is show students how to use technology well inside systems that increasingly measure thier ‘digital studentship’ while recognising children have a right to their own digital life and use technology in a modality that they find interesting or valuable – even if I don’t for second understand the humour in a meme or want to play a game that has little appeal to me.

A decade of living in the gift shop

In the last few years, I have been far more interested in cultures which have emerged from “educational technology” than the phenomenon itself. In fact, when I think about it, I’ve been around this topic for over a decade and rather than see any improvement.

I’m left feeling that very few are actually interested a possible decline.

To set this up, let me start by saying that for every single online #EduChat, of which there is no shortage of topic or competition, the concluding tweet should be “please exit via the gift shop”. From this stance, I want to talk about personalisation and what that might actually mean.


Should we keep the lights on or blow up the store?

The level of commercial bias, leveraged personalities (EduCelebs and Influencers) and manufactured social-ideological in-breeding is a never-ending isle of novelty and fetishes based on marketing promises, upgrade-culture and individual ambition/competition. These are all key socio-cultural factors which were omitted from the visions of the future but have emerged from decades of EdTech Culture.

Recently, I watched “The Last Jedi”. The thrust of the story is not to improve the present or reclaim the past, but to kill it all and start over.

Educational technology is being ‘framed’ as offering students a new-future of unprecedented personalisation. We are told is going to be best achieved through EdTech’s on-going blundering into ‘gaming’ where it will be more fun, more personalised and shaped by the learner as a neo-avatar. The learner will be in more control of what they learn, how they learn it, and their own credentials.

A point to note here is that personalisation is being conceptualised as ‘data’ and ‘skills’ – which is repeated and amplified to the masses who latch onto it as being true.

Within these new gamified experiences (the tiles of which are not obvious to me – but are already in play apparently), students will embark on a new era of personalised learning: interest and passion-driven, where are offered choices which the machine decodes into various modular ‘fun’ activities under the trending veneer of gamification.

At various points, the machine determines their ‘skill’ based on the data it has collected. Rather than a future trend, I’d argue this is a throwback to behaviorist machine learning – now re-birthed as ‘gamification’. The worst offender here is Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition whereby students are routinely presented to us as learning and creating in wonderful new ways – despite no tangible data to support the ‘new skills’ that they are acquiring in almost a decade of the game. Outside this creepy treehouse, the culture of Minecraft via Streamers is far from PG or positive – and clearly few teachers spend any time at all thinking about the media culture that they introduced kids to – as they built some crap model of a Roman fort or ‘learn to code’.

On that point, academics are increasingly questioning the value of ‘learning to code’ as a short encounter within the mysterious realms of ‘design thinking’. They are questioning the validity of claims these are ‘skills of the future’. Meanwhile, media-technology education in K12 remain stuck on ‘stranger danger’ and handing out “hour of code” certificates in response to curriculum demands and individual schools using such things to differentiate themselves as better than other schools. So much for the last decades relentless progress towards personalised learning and empowering the global classroom.

Audrey Waters posted a great piece on the vagueness of ‘personalised learning‘ and the thin research upon which so many people appear to be making some BIG decisions. It is well worth reading as you exit through the gift shop.

To me, this is the dangerous culture of EdTech. The culture of online discussions (especially those being directed by individuals (they call themselves ‘founders’) is to repeat the most popular ‘trend’ statements, rather than make any real effort to evaluate claims. As these online events (which are a form of media entertainment) are also socially-driven, few seem to question the validity of claims and ignore their own behaviour. For example, in Australia, I’d argue teachers will demand kids use technology (the Internet and device) for around 900 hours this year. There are no hash-tag chats about the ramifications and effects of this, nor the lack of responsibility and recourse if it turns out kids are not getting the ‘bright new personalised future learning thingy’ that presumably emerges from hashtagged answers to moot questions on a Sunday night.

Is learning personal? – yes. Can teachers bend their course outlines to allow students to follow personal interest pathways? – Yes, sometimes and within boundaries, they do not control, such as timetables, resources, directives – and technologies they use.

As presented by EdTech, Personalised Learning is not a concept, but a product. We can take a generic product then add a monogram or greeting, but it’s no more personalised than that. Technology is a mass media product, which is both mass produced and has mass-produced meanings for each individual. It’s impossible to show ‘skills and data’ are going to somehow make this clear.

The narrative of EdTech remains the same. Personalised learning has not (so far) liberated students from narrow-minded teachers (who probably can’t use the Internet). This again being touted in support of personalised learning. It’s reinforced by the Twitteristi who have proved effective at repeating this headline and are seemingly here to “save students” once again from crap experiences – aka teachers.

Meanwhile, what little research there is, continues to show families are struggling to cope with media and its effects and educational research show EdTech makes no significant changes to student attainment.

To my mind, I’ve been in the EdTech gift shop for a decade.  I’m still not buying.

I’ve seen a shift from an institutional and academic focus on what “quality education” looks like (and optimism for that to change to include media education) to one where global brands and select individuals (often endorsed/sponsored) use the same technology to de-focus attention away from research and scholarship.

EdTech has succeeded in enlisting students (and families) inside well maintained ‘product cycles’ – which are apparently better because they are being increasingly ‘personalised’ – but as yet, can’t show any data to support claims of improvement. So we are back in the damn gift-shop.

New for 2018 will be Block Chain. Now your Uncle Alan has managed to get $200 f Bitcoin using an app, it’s going to be easy to sell this idea will change Education.

Now we also believe that personalised learning is real, we are likely to also believe it will be made robust and safe by Block Chain technology. Forget Mozilla Badges, they were rubbish. We now have ‘the blockchain’.

Not surprisingly, the online pundits have been busy writing about the Edu-Blockchain – as of course, education has to have its own personalised edition.

They suggest a blockchain transcript could evolve to provide a thorough record of achievement, one that might include writing samples, images of projects completed, reflections or recommendations from faculty, or links to resources that chronicle a student’s progress. Such a ledger could provide evidence of a lifetime of experience, growth, and learning. Access to such a record of achievement might play a role in getting a job of the future of course … but the question is … how well have governments and academic institutions faired against the corporate brands so far – who is more likely own, share and decide on this irreversible, un-breakable transcript of individual skills and their data – your government or Facebook. When you walk into a job interview – who’s data will be used in face-recognition to thin the lines of opportunity and decide who will be successful – and who won’t.

Having a personalised monogram when you sign into this dystopia won’t make it any less of a dystopia for those who are already marginalised or at risk. But gamification is a great way of handing out winner and loser badges.

So yeah, after a couple quiet years, I think 2018 is a year that will be very interesting – and there are plenty of dumb novelty items that I’m going to throw rocks at in the EdTech giftshop.