This blog provides a running commentary on the development of the website and enables me to acknowledge all the help and support I have had - and also gives me the luxury of being able to comment on current developments in educational technology and its impact on the website. - Peter Avis
I have fond memories of Geoffrey Hubbard as Director of CET as I was beginning my career in Educational Technology. I sat next to him at some meeting in the DES and in-between his pertinent and intelligence comments he drew the most exquisite architectural drawing as a doodle on the edge of the paper. In writing this history I have come to realise how remarkably skillful he was in steering CET in the changing tides of government. He began his career as an engineer with GEC and then moved into the civil service in the Ministry of Technology. He had a clear vision that the CET was about development not research, which
he saw as a job for the universities. In that vision lay CET's success.
A Quaker, a quiet reflective man, but one who all of his staff respected and followed his wise lead. For many months I was frustrated because I wanted to write about him but couldn't find a photograph of him on the Internet, and then in going through a bunch of papers I kept from my days in the Policy Unit at Becta I found a printed invitation to Becta's Chief Executive to his memorial service in 1998 and it had this delightful photo on it. Very much the man I remember and someone who made a great contribution to educational technology.
I was prompted to write this after hearing Rory Bremner on Desert Island Discs from the BBC archives. He quoted Enoch Powell's answer to the question 'Who are the Establishment?'. Powell said 'You are asking the wrong question. You are looking for the copper wires. You should be looking for the electricity.'' This struck me as equally true about the quest for educational change. We always look for 'change mechanisms': policies, projects, organisations, funding regimes etc. whereas all the evidence is that change happens through interactions between teachers, students, advisers, industry etc. The trick of course is to develop policies, organisations, funding etc. that create an environment where these interactions prosper but the danger is that we believe the structures are the cause not the distant enabler.
The earliest mention I can find of a computer within the school context was an entry by Peter Excell in a history of computing here. He describes his experience as a student at Hatfield School and using the Hatfield Technical College Elliot 803 computer. Now Hertfordshire University it luckily has a photoarchive here which shows what the Elliot 803 looked like. I knew Bill Tagg as a fellow Regional Director for MEP and as a member of NAACE. He was totally committed to learners, computer education and the unit he set up AUCBE - the Advisory Unit for Computer Based Education - was a real centre for innovation and software development and pioneering. It was one of the project centres for NDPCAL in the 1970s and during the 1980s I remember some of the early work they did - Richard Noss and Logo, Richard Bignall developing the ZX81 for control technology, the database QUEST, the first educational use of Windows, and much, much more. There seems to be little description of their work on the web and if anybody has any materials - photos, documents, that they want to put up on this website I would be delighted. Please contact me here.
I spent some time thinking through what to call this website. I chose Educational Technology. There are, as you may know a wide range of alternatives. Computer Based Education, Educational Computing, Information Technology, Microelectronics Education, ICT - Information and Communications Technology and the list goes on. The multiplicy of names comes partly because these terms have gone in and out of fashion, and partly because they mean different things to different people. I chose Educational Technology because it has echoes back to the Council for Educational Technology, CET and also NCET. It also covers a broad church, not just focussed on the computer as a tool but also the wider systems of teaching and learning. So Educational Technology it is. But I also need to tell the reader it is relatively restricted in its coverage. Presumably educational technology is as old as education - and those wall-paintings from Lascaux from 15000BC may well be the earliest known examples. But without demeaning the importance of older technologies I'm really interested in the last fifty years and in the way government has responded to the challenge of changing technology and how it set up organisations and programmes to impact on the education system.
Three years ago Michael Gove closed Becta. I was working there as Director for Educational Policy and although we had some concern that the incoming coalition government would look to cut us and educational technology it was a surprise that they did so without it being part of a general review that was forecast for the October. In fact as far as I can see Becta was the first education 'quango' to be closed and for quite a long time was the only one to be properly closed as opposed to absorbed into the Department for Education. I retired early and thought that writing the history of educational technology would keep me busy. however it has been harder than expected to get the right perspective.
After three years I have gone through the phases of concern, sadness, anger and now to reflection. I have now decided the only sensible approach is to write the history as a celebration of the creativity of the many interesting people I met over my 40 years history in this field. In the end, putting politics and personal experiences to one side, what has been remarkable about the development of educational technology has been the generally positive partnership between government and educationalists that has helped schools and colleges create and develop new approaches to education based on the rapidly changing technologies of the times. So my aim to is get the site ready for a trial launch by the end of June.