Sunday, January 31, 2010

iPAD: ergonomic disaster – end of story

Forget the functionality and the fact that it doesn’t have a USB or webcam it’s just the wrong shape. No consumer device can withstand ergonomic failure. It's just too awkward to use, hold and store.

1. Pain in the neck. When I’m writing (typing) do I lie it flat on a table and peer at an acute angle at the text? You can’t hold the damn thing and type. Wait for the neck pain and eye strain.

2. No feeling. Most writers prefer the haptic feel of a keyboard.

3. Touchscreens error prone. Research from the University of Glasgow Scotland [Brewster, Chohan, and Brown 2007] demonstrates that sample users reduce input errors (20%), increase input speed (20%), and lower their cognitive load (40%) when touchscreens are combined with haptics or tactile feedback.

4. Thumbs useless. For texting it doesn’t have that two-thumbs convenience.

5. Gamers like control. Most gamers like cognitively ergonomically designed controllers, not touchscreen.

6. Won't stand up. When I watch a movie do I have to hold it up for 2 hours or prop it up on its thin shiny strip of a base? Can’t see me using this on a train or plane. A laptop or netbook has a screen that can be tilted on a hinged base – perfect. Or you carry the iPAD 'dock' around!

7. Armpit? Do I need something this big to listen to music? Do I hold it under my armpit as I walk or run?

8. Awkward e-book. For reading I can hold a book in one hand as it’s a shallow V shape, even drop it. Flat devices are awkward for holding and reading.

9. Condom storage. When I put it away I’ll have to sleeve it to protect the screen. That’s a pain.

10. Forgotten the tablet? We’ve been through this with the PC tablet, which was a dog for all of the above reasons.

Ergonomically, it’s worse than an iPHONE or iTOUCH as it’s too big, literally a designer who wanted to PAD out an iPHONE. Ergonomically, it’s worse than a netbook or laptop because it’s flat. Too big to hold comfortably, too flat for work, too awkward to store. Ergonomically, it’s all wrong.

PS Love this rude spoof

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Beware of the happy campers

There’s something odd about relentlessly jolly people, a sort of deep sadness. But this is nothing compared to the people who sell ‘happiness’ as a commodity – behind the smile lies a lie and a hefty daily rate. I have an instinctive distrust of motivational speakers, positive psychologists, life coaches, NLP fanatics and other happy-clappy types. Call me old fashioned, but I’m a sucker, not for pessimism, but for realism.

Smile or Die

That brings me to an astonishing book by Barbara Ehrenreich Smile or Die, a welcome shot of realism that shatters the cosy world of the happy, shiny people. The core argument is compelling. The ‘happy’ movement replaces reality with positive illusions. Sure, you can think positive but “at the cost of less realism”. It’s this optimism bias that leads to failed projects, missed sales figures, unrepayable debt and failure.

Ehrenreich starts with her Cancer, the catalyst for the book, and berates the relentless and ill-informed advisors who make false claims about extending your life through positive thinking. There is no such evidence, yet paid counsellors keep the myths flowing. It’s an unthinking world where any dissent is seen as negative and therefore wrong, even if you’re right. Even worse is the psychological side-effect which encourages patients to blame themselves (if they’re realistic) and their attitudes for their disease. This is truly disturbing.

Get a life not a coach

Above all it’s the coaching profession she finds most insidious. At its worst they seem to suggest that reality is wholly subject to change through thoughts and feelings. They cherry pick bits of science; quantum physics, magnetism and a heap of other things they don’t really understand (NLPers are easily the worst at this) to create illusions from bad science. Luckily the science usually bites back.

Pied piper of the positive psychology

Martin Seligman is the pied piper of the positive psychology movement and when she meets him she finds an odd man, keen on exploiting his ‘science’ for money. His book Authentic Happiness is, like him, a “jumble of anecdotes”. His banal formula for happiness is H= S+F+C (Happiness = set range, circumstances and voluntary control) condenses one vague concept from three others. The Journal of Happiness Studies is study after study linking happiness to every conceivable outcome but there’s no room for negative results in this brand of science.

Ponzi positivism

The whole Ponzi scheme that was the recent financial bubble was built on the false optimism of being positive about everything. At the heart of the economic crisis was an epidemic of self-delusion. A group of bankers coked up on a heady mixture of motivational speakers, motivational literature and coaches. Ehrenreich slates Tim Robbins, Chris Gardner and Chuck Mills for creating a ‘woo’ culture of high fives and leaders who became “megalomaniac, narcissistic solipsists”. Bankers and other financial types built bubbles around themselves, all within a mega-bubble of debt. As Paul Krugman said “nobody likes to be a party pooper”. To be positive is to be forever blowing bubbles.

Cheese, soup…….

Ehrenreich refuses to “fake sincerity” and “retreat from the real drama and tragedy of human events” and slams infantile books like; Who moved my cheese? Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Secret etc. for selling snakeoil solutions to vulnerable people. It’s always happy hour for the ‘professionals who peddle positivity, make huge sums of money from the selling these illusions.

Get real

In the final chapter, she despairs at Human Resources who can’t possibly see past this simple narrative and swallow it whole, using ‘positive’ and ‘good’ interchangeably. On the whole, HR and the training world, hungrily lap up this stuff, and are the enablers for this epidemic of anti-realism. It’s not a matter of optimism versus pessimism, but realism versus illusions.

Friday, January 29, 2010

10 reasons why I don’t have a mobile

I’ve worked with technology all of my adult life, built a business based on technology, written extensively about technology and evangelised technology, BUT I don’t own a mobile phone. How come?

When I worked full time I had one but in August 2005, I threw it to one side and haven’t bought one since (sorry I’ve bought several for my teenage sons). Don’t get me wrong, my use of technology increased dramatically at this point as I had the time to blog, email, research, Facebook and eventually Tweet away and I did, with a vengeance. I was just fed up with random calls that led to random behaviour and gave me no time to think.

Mobilus interruptus

A mobile stops and interrupts your life. You subject yourself to the tyranny of incoming calls and texts. This disturbs me a lot, as I like to stay in the flow, when I’m doing things. I don’t like being interrupted. I don’t want the tail wagging the dog. When I’m reading the newspaper, watching the news, watching a movie, reading a book or writing, I don’t want to hear the shrill sound of a ringtone. It throws me. It also leads to demands and promises (not saying NO enough) that nag away at your mind until they’re fulfilled.


I hate ringtones, every last one of them. From the familiar simple, standards to the full polyphonic cacophonies that assault my ears and mind on trains and buses, I hate them all. When their phone rings, it’s not for my attention or the attention of the train carriage or busload of passengers, it’s for the owner. It’s sometime absurdly loud.

Private-public collapse

It’s this collapse of the public-private distinction that disturbs me the most. It's so undignified. I yearn for the days when telephony was confined to the privacy of your own home or in a large, red, metal box. Private conversations should be private, not public. What’s more, I‘m often forced to listen to one side of a banal conversation as it is being SHOUTED DOWN THE PHONE. Since when did people believe that they have the right to inflict public shouting on large numbers of their fellow human beings for long periods in enclosed places? I’ve even experienced teenagers place the phone on a table between them on a train to use it as a mini-ghetto blaster. How rude is that?

Slow movers

There’s a Facebook group set up for people like me who want a law to make it legal to club someone with a baseball bat if they stop or slow down in front of you due to mobile use. I’m a member. What makes someone think that when walking along a crowded street they can just stop or slow down causing small ripple traffic jams among the pedestrians, just because they’ve got a call. Move to one side. Have some respect. Some of us have things to do and places to get to. We’re not all itching for intimate phone chat.

Mobiles during movies

Another social convention that seems to have suffered is the expectation that one can watch a movie or live performance, without some idiot checking their texts or sending them, illuminating the three rows behind them. This is behaviour of such selfishness that I rarely respond with polite request. I prefer to prod them on the back of the head with one finger, then tell them to switch it off. This, I’ve found is not an age or class thing. Some of the worst offenders are older middle-class folk who seem to think the world revolves around them and their family, “Sorry darling, I’ll have to call you back later….(silent thought - there’s a mad Scotsman about to ram my mobile up my rectum)……love you”.

Queue clogger

You’re in a queue at the bank, in a supermarket, at the ticket booth in the station, and there’s some prat on his/her phone who’s having a conversation during the transaction. Of course, they can’t and slow the whole process down. The teller, check-out person and ticket seller shake their head with disbelief and the rest of us want to shove the mobile into their open mouth (sideways).

Plane stupid

Then there’s the nutters in airports and planes who feel the desperate need to call as the plane is landing or just after the pilot has announced that it’s illegal. Even a solid stare from a member of the cabin crew doesn’t put them off – they’ll continue with that call to the death, literally of us all.

Burnt alive

Similarly in petrol stations, where the danger of sparks demand that you switch them off to prevent you and everyone else being emolliated. If you don’t think this is possible, watch this horrific video.

Mobile murderers

Lastly, there’s the murderers and suicide drivers who use them while driving. To be fair this is often guys in vans (sort of understandable) or wankers in BMWs (unforgivable). Using a mobile increases your chance of killing yourself and others. No you can’t multi-task Mr BMW, ask your wife – she’ll tell you that you can barely use a knife and fork at the same time.

Travel without a mobile

I travel to escape the greyness of the UK, to let time expand and immerse myself in another place or culture. I don’t want a dose of the UK in my ear every few hours. I spent years travelling without one and don’t see the need for one now. There’s nothing sadder than some middle manager responding to some middle-management task in a place of great beauty or interest. It’s just wrong.

Asynch or synch

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m basically an asynch sort of guy. I’m fairly gregarious and social but I prefer incoming fire to be deflected and stored for later perusal. I don’t like all of this ‘out of the blue’ stuff, where you’re showered by requests in realtime, even strangers selling you things. It’s not that I’m a communications curmudgeon. Indeed, I’m an almost obsessive emailer, blogger, Facebook addict and Tweeter. But with this lot I’m in control and can respond in my own good time, or not at all.

I’m not saying abandon mobiles. If you work, they’re often necessary and if you just love to chat on the phone for hours, that’s fine with me. I’m even cool with people who want to have an electronic umbilical chord to their teenage offspring. Just don’t expect me to subject myself to that regime.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hedge your BETTs – the 7 paradoxes of technology in education

I shuffled around BETT for a short while, but I always find it a rather unreal spectacle – a huge shanty town of stalls, selling to largely suspicious customers. There’s several contradictions in ‘education and technology’ that are all too obvious here.
Paradox 1: Technology and classrooms
Education is obsessed by classroom delivery. That means it has to constantly try to force technology into this one box. Classrooms are designed for teachers to talk to groups of students, who then troop off every hour or so to another classroom. To shove technology into this context is like punching holes in the walls. The boxed-in learners are always trying to get out and the technology allows them to do so. So you get this emphasis on iPads, expensive whiteboards and table-top computers and all sorts of other nonsense that has been shoe-horned into the classroom, leaving poor teachers to manage the fact that learners, especially onine want to be free.
Paradox 2: Technology and teachers
The second assumption is that technology should always be teacher-mediated. That’s because the current educational model assumes that teaching is always a necessary condition for learning – it’s not. Teacgers in schools are wonderful, that's their habitat. But the more successful attempts at content creation, distribution and use have been largely teacher-free, allowing students to get on with their learning in the quiet of their own homes or bedrooms - Google, Wikipedia, Khan, BBC Bitesize etc etc.
Paradox 3: Anti-corporate attitude
On the whole, schools, and the teaching profession, have more than a whiff of anti-corporate attitude. Teaching is often explicitly (not always) anti-private sector. You see this on Twitter where many of the tweets are moaning about technology and evil vendors. This makes the market rather awkward, as there’s a lack of trust between sellers and buyers. Hence the crowds of attendees who end up trawling the exhibition for pencils, plastic things, stress balls and other goodies.
Paradox 4: Anti-technology
Although most of the people at BETT are not like this, many of their colleagues are explicitly anti-technology. I’ve experienced this many times in schools and colleges when I’ve given talks on technology.
Paradox 5: Technology brings visibility
Teachers instinctively know that a VLE and other pieces of learning management software, expose them to scrutiny, either by managers or parents, and fear this exposure. This is understandable, but teaching has long been an occupation that lacked scrutiny.
Paradox 6: Small is expensive
Technology in schools has suffered from poor procurement and poor implementation because it is bought by individual schools when the real model should be higher up the value chain, above individual institutions. Schools often make bad, expensive choices and struggle to support the things they buy, leading to further suspicion.
Paradox 7: Technology wants to be free
Technology has a place in schools and a huge role in education. But that role is largely to do with learning out of the box that is the classroom. It needs to target and promote autonomous learning, free from the distractions of groups within a classroom. Most people use technology on a one-to-one basis, not in large groups. If we freed up students to get on with self-driven learning, delivered all learning at home via technology, we’d get better value for our money.
Hedging your bets?
There's some fantastic people working in education and technology, who really care about improving the lot of students, but context crushes much of this effort. I’d like to see technology free us from some of the hideous aspects of the existing model – by delivering strong, inspiring content, allowing home learning to be delivered, marked and communicated back to teachers, giving parents more information and control. But I wouldn’t BETT on it!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is education 'blinded’ by snow?

Picture the scene; on Friday I walked past a cluster of three schools, all within a few hundred yards of each other. The roads were open and traffic flowing, every shop, pub and restaurant in the area was open. The buses were running and the trains operating. Hundreds their students were throwing snowballs and sledging in the snow on their extensive fields. Something odd, however; the schools were all shut, and as most parents now know, there wasn’t a snowball chance in hell of them being open. Why?

At the first drop of snow Education is the first to bring down the shutters on their students and their parents. Fair enough in those cases where it is physically impossible for teachers and students to get in, but in the majority of cases, this is is simply not true. What is maddening is the excuses trotted out by headteachers and teachers alike.

Blame the parents!

Hard to believe, but almost every teacher I’ve met will recite the myth and mantra of the ‘litigious parent’. Parents will sue at the drop of a glove, they claim, if their children slip in the snow and hurt themselves. No they won’t. There have been no cases of parents suing a school because of snow and ice. This anti-parent attitude is deeply embedded in the educational establishment. My school grounds are full of students playing about in the so-called ‘treacherous’ conditions. Keeping them out of school surely increase the general risk to children of accidents due to snow and ice. The word ‘treacherous’ is a dead giveaway. It’s not snowing in the classrooms.

Blame the Local Authorities

They have a point here, as the ‘risk analysis’ documents push schools into odd action. However, in the end, it’s the Headteacher and senior staff that make the decision. This leads to subjective judgements fuelled by Headteachers who instinctively side with their staff. They don’t take into account the consequences of their actions for the rest of us. You have the fascinating phenomena in my town of the private schools staying open and the state schools closing down. Can I suggest that this is because the private schools are run for the benefit of their students and parents, not the teaching staff?

If parents can, teachers can

In my town almost every business is open and working parents have made it to work. The roads past my local schools are open – I’ve walked and driven along them – and transport to and from the town is adequate. I’ve made it across town with ease and been to London on back on time. Sure, a few teachers and pupils may not have been able to get to school, but most students live in the catchment area and would have had no problem at all. If staff in other businesses can get to work, so can teachers.

1 teacher 60 parents

Parents, especially single parents, but also other working couples, have a tough time here, having to arrange childcare, often at the last minute, so that they can get to work, while the teachers stay at home. This is costly. For every teacher who’s at home, there may be up to 60 parents at work, many who have find alternative arrangements for their children.

No pay for the poor

Another unintended consequence is the loss of pay, not for the teachers, but for auxiliary staff, who often don’t get paid if they don’t get to work. As usual it’s the poor who suffer here, cleaners and canteen staff. Couldn’t we just pay for them to clear some paths in the snow and get everyone back on track.

Unfair exams

70,000 students have GCSE and A-level exams this week and most have been deprived of adequate support by schools that have been quick of the mark in closing down. The exam boards have been guilty of putting their business interests before that of their pupils. The disruption caused by the snow has put this crop of students at a disadvantage. It is not a fair test because the lead-up conditions are different, depending on where you live or whether you’re in a private of state school.

Many pay for few

Businesses accept that a few people may not be able to get in but don’t close down the whole establishment on the basis of the few. In schools, if just a few can’t make the whole thing closes down.

As parents we’re constantly reminded that absence from school has a deleterious effect on the educational attainment of our children, except when it’s caused by snow, apparently. This fact is conveniently ignored when it comes to making the effort to get schools open in bad weather. Why don’t we do the right thing here and allow teachers holidays when it snows and get them to work extra days when the weather improves?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Massive increase in words consumed

There’s a lot of angst around how we consume language in the light of new technology. In terms of ‘words’, are we consuming more or less, and from what sources?

How much information? 2009

At last there’s a huge study that attempts to look at the big picture of ‘information consumption’ over time. The How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers by Roger E. Bohn and James E. Short from the University of California, is a fascinating read. It looks at how much information we consume at home (not at work) and has some surprising findings.

First think about the information sources you use at home. There’s stuff from the outside; cable TV, broadcast TV, broadcast radio, telephone, internet, wireless, print, digital storage e.g. DVDs. Then the new kid on the block, the user-created stuff: photographs, videos, web pages, blogs, chat, social networking, email, phone calls, texts, computer games. Our homes are awash with information.

So what did they measure? They use three measures; hours, words and bytes consumedand did not adjust for double counting. If someone is watching TV and using the computer at the same time, the data sources will record this as two hours of total information. This is consistent with most other researchers.

Massive increase in words consumed

I’ll focus more on ’words’, as I think it’s the one that’s gone through most change over time.. When many think of language they think books, newspapers and magazines. If little Josh or Sarah-Jane ain’t reading, or being read to, it’s not really ‘language’. But as any linguist will tell you the spoken word is primary. So how do we consume words, spoken and written?

The top line figure is a 140% increase in total words consumed from 1980 to 2008. Using words as his only metric, Pool estimated that 4,500 trillion words were ‘consumed’ in 1980. This grew to 10,845 trillion words in 2008, which works out to about 100,000 words per American per day.

Breakdown of words consumed

They are consumed in the following ways; TV 45%, computer 27%, radio 10.6%, print 8.6%, phone 5.2%, computer games 2.4%. Taken together, U.S. households in 2008 spent about 5% of their information time reading newspapers, magazines and books, which have declined in readership over the last fifty years. From the perspective of the information measured in words, printed media in total accounts for only 8.6% of all words consumed.

Computers massively increase reading

Conventional print media has fallen from 26% of information by words in 1960 to 9% in 2008. However, this has been more than countered by the rise of the Internet and local computer programs, which now provide 27% of words, with conventional print providing an additional 9%. Thanks to computers, a full third of words are now received interactively. Reading, which was in decline due to the growth of television, has now tripled from 1980 to 2008, because it is the overwhelmingly preferred way to receive words on the Internet. In other words, reading as a percentage of our information consumption has increased in the last 50 years, if we use words themselves as the unit of measurement. Of course, the picture is getting far more complicated as we read and write more on mobile devices and through social networking. My guess is that both reading and writing are dog-legging in growth as mobile devices and social networking have become mainstream.More information consumed In general, we consume more information Hours of information consumption grew at 2.6 percent per year from 1980 to 2008, due to a combination of population growth and increasing hours per capita, from 7.4 to 11.8.

Radio and TV still dominate

The traditional media of radio and TV still dominate our consumption per day, with a total of 60 percent of the hours. The estimated 292 million U.S. viewers average nearly five hours of TV viewing per day.9 Total TV viewing accounts for 41 percent of total hours of information consumption. In total, more than three-quarters of U.S. households’ information time is spent with non-computer sources.

Interestingly, although adults frequently complain about how much time children spend watching TV, the facts show otherwise: American teenagers watch less than four hours per day while the largest amount is watched by older Americans, those 60 to 65, who watched more than seven hours per day. And Video never did “kill the radio star” which is still alive and kicking, especially in the US where more people spend longer in cars.


It is quite likely that by 2010, the total number of hours that Americans spend on their cell phones will overtake their use of landline phones in the household. As a factor of total hours of information consumed by U.S. households in 2008, it was already a close race.

Computer access the big change

The five major categories of home computer use are all on the rise:

1. Accessing the Internet such as web browsing, communications (including email) and social networking;

2. Uploading, downloading and watching videos on the Internet;

3. Playing computer games;

4. Mobile devices and applications;

5. Offline computer activities that don’t require Internet access; such as writing a letter in Word, putting together an Excel spreadsheet, or editing home photos.

The average American spends nearly three hours per day on the computer, not including time at work. That is 24% of total information hours. Rise of interaction Interaction is an interesting extra dimension in that most past sources of information were passive, such as movies, radio and TV. The computer is a game-changer as it is highly interactive, with computer games, social networking, email and other functions being intensely interactive.

In an interesting aside, the authors make an interesting point about evolution here. Our evolutionary past did not prepare us for enormous doses of passive information, it was a highly interactive environment full of conversation, so tradition media such as books, newspapers, magazines, TV and radio are far less aligned that the telephone, txting, msn, computer games and social networking.

Future is complicated

There’s the other complication which is multiple streams of information into the home and switching rapidly between laptop, TV and phone. It is not uncommon for one home to have computers, consoles, telephones, iPOD music, TV and radio all flowing into the one home, while people flit between them or get interrupted and switch in and out of these information flows. There’s also the domino effect as something on one medium stimulates the use of another. A news item on TV may stimulate internet browsing, hearing a song on radio may spark off a download to your iPOD.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Scrap staffrooms - real example, it works

No staffroom at Mossbourne
Three years ago I blogged an idea that seemed a little crazy at the time - scrap teacher staffrooms. You may not like what he has done since but the infamous Michael Wilshaw did precisely that and, along with other measures, produced one of the most successful state schools in the country - Mossbourne Community Academy. He had no central staffroom and teachers have to take tea and coffee in 'learning areas' around the school, "I wanted staff and students in close proximity at all times so that, at vulnerable periods such as breaks when you get bullying and vandalism, pupils don't all head in one direction and staff in another". And this guy is lambasted by the left for being a traditionalist! Just for the record, his school from being one of the worst in the country now gets 85% A-C (including English and Maths), despite its deprived, and non-selective, intake.

Why staffrooms are bad
When Malcolm Gladwell was asked what one thing would most improve education he replied, ’Abolishing teacher staffrooms’. He may have been right – a survey published in 2007 showed that teachers top the worst ‘gossips at work’ poll, with 79% talking about their colleagues behind their back. John Taylor Gatto, a National award winning teacher in the US gave up teaching quoting one of the reasons as he could no longer stand the culture of the staffroom.

Teachers may lose rank among their peer group if they don’t join in the gossip (Nias 1989) and, worse, may be subjected to rumour and gossip if they shun the classroom (Rosenholz 1989). These studies show troubled teachers, in particular, being at risk. Kainan’s 1994 study of staffrooms found that they were largely simple, colourless, monotonous, devoid of clear functionality and were often split into several cliques; veteran, novice, supply and student teachers. It was a clear hierarchy. Worse than this is the Hammersly study in (1984) that found conversation about students and their parents/carers, was largely condemnatory.

Is there a case for scrapping school staffrooms? No other professions have a ‘panic room’ just for managers to chill out, so why have school staff rooms?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Gross errors pass as 'research'

The New Year starts with yet another crass, unscientific and misleading rash of stories in the press and on television, worrying parents about children’s speech and development. The usual suspect ‘technology’ is reported as guilty without any supporting evidence. “Children spend too much time in front of the television and computer games…” opens the Guardian piece with a picture of a games’ controller. The Daily Mail headline shouts, “The youngsters who struggle to speak because their parents let them to watch too much TV”. Yet the so-called “research” with “evidence” is a YouGov survey which proves absolutely nothing about causes, and is rather hazy on whether there’s a problem at all.

Jean Gross has been busily back tracking after the press and television picked up on the story, as there is no evidence at all that technology or any other causes are at work here. She readily admits that the proposed cause, being “exposed to screens of all kinds” is no more than “anecdotal evidence”. As she had to admit under questioning today on the BBC, “nobody actually knows whether it is getting worse or not….it’s all anecdotal evidence”. This is not bad science, it’s speculative, personal opinion put out by so-called experts who confuse ‘anecdotes’ with ‘evidence’. It’s appalling behaviour by people in a position of power who should know better. I’d sack her on the spot.

Jean Gross

So who is Jean Gross? She's the government’s Communication Champion. Jean seems like a sensible sort, but she’s an expert, not in communication in general, but in special needs in primary schools. In other words, she sees the world through a dysfunctional lens. She’s also a Director of the Every Child a Reader organisation, a partnership between charities, business and the Government which funds the controversial Reading Recovery scheme. At a cost of £2000-£2500 a year per child this is a very expensive scheme and had been roundly criticised for being far too expensive, resulting in short-term effects not sustained in the long-term. The scheme has its origins in New Zealand and has been rolled out in Australia, but is now being abandoned there, on the back of evaluative research. Literacy expert Kevin Wheldall from Macquarie University Special Education Centre, has looked at the research from 1992 onwards and said, "The logic of employing Reading Recovery as a solution for pupils who have struggled to learn to read following phonics instruction is almost wilfully perverse – a triumph of hope over experience. These are precisely the children for whom Reading Recovery works least well." Critics point out that this money would be better spent on the wider use of phonics teaching, which is woeful in many primary schools.

Class bias?

There really is a debate and research agenda in this area, but as long as the vacuum is filled with shameless and deceptive commentators like Sue palmer, Aric Sigman and Jean Gross, who jump to speculative conclusions without supporting evidence, the muddier the issues become. They trot out the usual platitudes about TV and technology being bad while reading to your children is good. The problem is that these people make top dollar from book sales to worried parents or as pseudo-professionals in the field.

The ‘elephant’ in the room, of course, is the working parents’ issue. Technology is an easy target for commentators, who don’t want to raise the obvious fact that families in which both parents work are likely to spend considerably less time in face to face communication with their children. This is a sort of class-based bias, as many of these experts have full-time jobs packing their kids off to packed nurseries, rather than doing what they preach, namely spending loads of time ‘talking to their children’.