Here is a review I wrote for the Chartered College of Teaching. Here it is on my site too.

Chartered College of Teaching Book Review

Book title: Learning with ‘e’s
Author: Steve Wheeler
Publication date: 2015

The Review

1. What is your overall impression of the book?

Learning with ‘e’s tries to decode research and theory to establish the future of learning in the digital sphere. I chose to read the book after hearing Steve give a keynote speech last year. His knowledge, sense of humour and desire to make a difference were compelling and Learning with ‘e’s certainly lived up to my expectations.

Steve has a breadth of experience across education, most recently as a consultant and formerly as an Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at the Plymouth Institute of Education, where he chaired the Learning Futures group and led the computing and science education teams. He draws on this to discuss how – and why – we should embed digital pathways for learning in modern curriculums. He covers many topics, such as curriculum design, appropriating technology, and engaging and engendering lifelong learners.

Learning with 'e's book cover.

The book weaves delicately, yet precisely, through the changing landscape of technology as a driver for learning. Steve isn’t shy to make two points: 1. that the learner should be at the centre of decisions; 2. that our attitude to using technology in education must move at a speed akin to that of the modern world’s desire to be connected. Quite simply, education must follow technology, but how quickly depends on us.

He weighs up his arguments by drawing on research and theory. He uses this to question and explore the validity of conceptual approaches we might have, such as the formats in which we traditionally accept assignments from students. For example, is a traditional essay any more valid than a blog, bespoke website or video?

Steve also unapologetically takes on those who would defend the current status where technology has no real beneficial place within education, rather than seeing its nearly endless possibilities, impact and transformational power. The issues he discusses range from theories of learning in the old and new curricula, learning whilst on the move, digital literacy and the changing face of digital identity as technology and society evolve. He really opened my eyes to where technology in learning could go.

2. Who do you think would benefit most from reading the book? What will they learn?

Teachers who are sceptical about using technology in education will benefit first and foremost from reading Learning with ‘e’s. One of my favourite questions from the book is, ‘How can we reach a place in education where students find their own level and make their own pathways through learning?’

I would also urge anyone who has an interest in technology in education – or is a digital lead in a school, college, university or MAT – to read the book. In fact, almost any educator could benefit from reading some or all of Learning with ‘e’s as it challenges us to think of what is fundamentally most important in education: the learner and their experience.

3. What did you think about the quality of the writing? Please consider the tone, structure and ideas. Does it suit the audience?

Steve writes in a manner that’s akin to a friendly tour guide taking you through what can be a bewildering space. His writing is well structured and signposts many research findings, which allows you to make up your own mind as you travel along the highway of information. Steve also digests the theory and research and gives you a practical appreciation of them when he discusses his own ideas and how they could be implemented.

4. Please discuss the research used to underpin the ideas. What evidence does the author use? Is it robust and up-to-date?

Steve makes great use of a varying and wide-reaching range of research, referenced throughout, to underpin his ideas. While the book is now a couple of years old, the research findings are still relevant and his questioning more than stands up to test.

The bibliography is extensive. It covers a huge range of sources, including pedagogy in and with technology; the language of learning; psychology; human and social contexts; distance learning; digital identities; curriculum and environment design; experiential and organisational learning; computer-assisted learning; and the process of connecting and motivating learners.

5. What did you learn from reading the book? What ideas/approaches/practice will you change or adapt as a result of reading this book?

One of the main themes I took from the book was the concept of praxis, which is the overlap between theory and practice. ‘Draw two intersecting circles, label them “what I can do” and “how I know”, and praxis sits right there in the middle, the overlap between the two.” Steve reminds us that we should stop seeing the two elements as separate entities and start combining them so that we can create the optimum environment for our learners.

He also suggests that negotiated success criteria (between learner and teacher), which is tailored to the pupil’s individual needs, may be more time consuming, but is worth the effort if it improves learning. This made me think of a radical idea – students setting their own success criteria for assessments. This particularly resonated with me as learners are producers – they put their own mark on the content they create, evaluate others and their identity is maintained with the content they have created either in school or on social media.

Too often we prescribe in teaching rather than creating a safe space for co-construction, collaboration and learning in action. I will certainly spend more time developing success criteria, thinking about how my students can put the equivalent effort into creating a digital piece of work as they would with an analogue version and ipsative (personal) assessment.

I’ve also changed my approach to accepting a wider range of student-generated work. One size does not fit all and I would rather my students were more creative, for example rather than a written explanation I would happily receive a short video or imagery made using tools like Adobe Spark Video, Quik or Canva. When given more choice, students showcase their learning in more creative ways than we are typically accustomed to.

6. Could you share a quote from the book that particularly resonated with you?

‘Schools, colleges and universities that support the ethos of student-generated content will find themselves tapping directly into the rich mother lode of creativity and innovation this generation of learners offers.’

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