Tag Archives: learning

The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs

The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs cover

I have recently read this excellent book  about research into the drug treatment of mental health conditions.

My review which offers an overview and my opinion is at the end of this post, but you may find it even more useful to listen to the author speak about the issues in this video made by the Open Paradigm Project.

The book made me think hard, and raised some very serious questions for me about our confidence in the ‘gold standard’ – double blind medical trial research data – which is held up as such a paragon of reliability. It is particularly annoying to think that education research is criticised as not being rigorous enough in comparison, when such a large scale failure of scientific thinking is reported.

The story, which tells of hubris and ambition amongst scientists, corruption from big business and the damage done, especially in relation to children, is enough to make me angry, but it also inspires me to look for parallel concerns in education.

One such concern is about the confusion between the organ which we call the brain and the phenomenon we call the mind. The story of drugs used to treat complex disorders of the mind is one of treating the brain with blanket interference at the level of the neuron and synapse, and then trying to explain the effects at the level of the mind.

It’s a bit like suggesting rain as a solution for society’s ills. Clearly rain has an effect on society’s functioning, but it has an indiscriminate dampening effect which doesn’t explain, predict or cause something like war, for example, although it may make for a temporary cessation if heavy enough. Indeed, it could be that such a break from the routine of war may help peace efforts to succeed. But nobody is confused that the rain is curing society’s problems in the way that ‘antipsychotic’ drugs are foolishly thought to target mental conditions.

These two things, brain and mind, are for me on completely separate ‘trophic levels‘, using the language of the ecosystems of food chains, just as rain and society are. One affects the other but not in simple ways that can explain the function of the mind through specific events in the brain nor vice versa, for that matter.

So, this analysis leads me to be cautious of any scientific report that attempts to relate brain biology directly to teaching and learning, although I have every confidence that hydration is important for our brains to work well and thus we should provide safe drinking fountains in schools, just as I find at Trinity College Dublin on every floor. Did I mention I now work there? ūüôā

My review of The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs

A must-read for anyone concerned with the well-being of society

In this book, Dr Moncrieff explains carefully, soberly and with considerable academic integrity, how the world of psychiatry has become distorted by its own desire for recognition as a medical profession, its dubious assumptions about the nature of mental conditions and by the efforts made by drugs companies to increase their business.

Dr Moncrieff explains how the desire for psychiatry to be as scientific/medical as other areas of health has led to rushed conclusions about the link between brain chemistry/biology and complex mental conditions of the mind such as schizophrenia, manic depression and anxiety.

The assumption made is that a chemical imbalance in the brain requires toxic ‘antipsychotic’ drugs to counter it, and like insulin for diabetes, over a lifetime since it is a permanent deficiency in the brain. This assumption is shown to have little or no evidence to support it, yet is the mainstay of modern psychiatric practice. Dr Moncrieff proposes an alternative view, that the drugs are simply suppressing brain activity, and thus appear to ‘cure’ mental conditions. The trouble is, whichever view is taken, the drugs have toxic effects which are in many ways no different those from the illegal drugs taken for pleasure that we criminalise in society. These effects are downplayed as ‘side effects’ despite there being substantial evidence of long term damage to body and brain health.

Dr Moncrieff shows how drugs companies, keen to maintain and improve their business, have funded research which shows marginal and questionable improvement through their drugs and have suppressed negative reports. Despite contradictory results, this ‘research’ is followed by advertising and efforts to shift the wider society understanding of mental health, so that patients demand ever more drugs to ‘cure’ their sometimes modest problems, now made to sound like serious illnesses.

The distortions to academic practice, pyschiatric prescription and most damning of all, the attempts to treat young children with toxic drugs are revealed by Dr Moncrieff with careful attention to the published record in a convincing manner, providing a solid basis for further debate.

But, most damning of all, is the experience that Dr Moncrieff reports of a refusal in the psychiatric world to engage with these issues or to properly discuss the ethical dilemmas that arise. I found myself intrigued, challenged but ultimately enraged by the failure of the academic/medical professionals to ‘do no harm’.

I recommend this book without reservation to anyone prepared to think hard about these issues, and who perhaps has been unaware of concerns about mental health treatment and the huge cost to the well-being of society. It is then for us to take up the challenges Dr Moncrieff has described and ask how are we and society to respond?

Learning Theory

Learning Theory concept map

I have been working for the HoTEL EU Support Action recently at Brunel University and I was asked to produced a report on¬†learning theories – a struggle, since there seem to be so many ‘isms’ and often I come across what seems to be the same theory, but from a different disciplinary or professional context.

So, this A3 poster of Learning Theory was central to the outcome and I would welcome feedback, especially since I will use it as part of my theoretical and conceptual framework for my PhD by Retrospective Practice. There is also the live this CmapTools version with clickable links to Wikipedia and InfEd.

Here is an extract from the report:

“Learning theory has been a contested scientific field for most of its history, with conflicting contributions from many scientific disciplines, practice and policy positions. With the continuing and disruptive influence of technology on information, knowledge and practice in all sectors of society it is no wonder that innovators, drawn to the interactive potential that computers bring to learning, are challenged by the theoretical basis for their innovations.

Formal education is also a high stakes, culturally & institutionally conservative activity, which serves more than one societal purpose, including:

  • learner development and fulfilment;
  • child care;
  • preparation for citizenship, parenthood and retirement;
  • preparation for work;
  • selection for jobs.

Even in the higher, informal and professional sectors of education, complexity of education is matched by complexity of learning outcomes which may include:

  • skills development;
  • knowledge acquisition;
  • improvement in strategic, analytic and creative capacities;
  • attainment of competence;
  • establishment of attitudes and values.

Each of these societal purposes and these learning outcomes demand different approaches and understandings for the theorist and may develop at varying rates or found to be diverse in relation to context, location and culture.”

Thanks to all the Twitterati that responded so positively when I shared an earlier draft at the HEA TeachMeet: @mike_blamires  @stephenharlow  @lenatp  @LizaField  @fleapalmer  @laurapasquini @JuneinHE @ProfDcotton @RebeccaRadics @catherinecronin @oliverquinlan @STEMPedR @IaninSheffield @louisedrumm @valerielopes @marloft @ethinking @HEAEducation @suzibewell @DebbieHolley1 @cgirvan @suebecks

How does technology enhance learning?

Ever since 1979, I have been curious about the instinctive reaction (and evidence in front of my eyes) that computers might support learning. That first computer program, intended for me to discover how to program, was Snooker. It simulated (on a Research Machines 380Z) the snooker table with a single ball. By specifying a force and a direction (as a bearing) you could hit the ball and see if it went in the pocket. When I showed my mathematics pupils, they were full of it – running to the cupboard to find protractors so they could more accurately estimate the angle.

In 2002 (call me slow) I had the opportunity to make my own analysis of how technology could enhance learning in the context of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority project,¬†Investigation Into Pupils’ Creativity Across The Curriculum, for which I was a consultant.

In 2012 (call me an octogenarian snail) I have tidied up that work into a a rather text-full poster which summarises what I had learnt, mapped on to the model of learning which I use in my practice Рexpression and evaluation Рthat poster is coming next!

UPDATE 14th August 2012: I have recreated Snooker using QuiteBasic!

Collabor8 4 Change – Conceptual framework for Computing

Following up my presentations in 2007 at Naace in Feltham¬† ‘The Importance of Computing as a Specialist Subject in Schools‘ and in 2010 at Computing@School in Birmingham ‘Computing at School‘, I am hosting a table at Collabor8 4 Change at BETT 2012 this year .

Titled ‘Conceptual framework for computing‘ it is planned to be a discussion of how we can be clearer about the nature of the computing subject at primary and secondary level and in particular how we can know better the continuity and progression for learners.

My challenge, in the context of computing and ICT  is:

  1. I believe we need to find out what knowledge children can attain at which age
  2. I suggest we could do mass practitioner research to answer that question
  3. What’s wrong with this proposition?

Here are the few slides to kick off the discussion – I shall add an update to this post when we have had it!

UPDATE 13/1/2012 after attending:

The two sessions went well, with interesting feedback. For most participants, there were more important issues at the level of teacher competence, school organisation and the government’s upheaval of ICT and Computing, which deserved more debate time. On the other hand few felt that I was wrong!

I enjoyed Kathryn Day’s session, ‘ ICT vs Computer Programming curriculum ‘ which usefully contrasted the many documents that inform (or confuse) the practitioner when planning.

I also attended Chris Ratcliffe’s session ‘ How much should pupils be, or feel, in charge of their work? ‘ which clarified some of the barriers to further responsibility being transferred to pupils, whilst agreeing it as a good thing.

Finally I joined Steve Philip for his session ‘Curating the past is more important than creating the future’ in which he proposed the term ‘curativity’ – the act of curating the avalanche of creative work made possible in schools with digital tools through selection, deletion, categorisation and preservation/presentation for an audience. Highly relevant to the National Archive of Educational Computing!

Well done to all the presenters & participants and to  the organisers: Penny Patterson, Dave Smith and Terry Freedman and to compère Russel Prue Рthe round tables format has a lot to recommend it, with more time for exchange in contrast to the more theatrical Teachmeet.

Computing at School

I presented at the third annual Computing at School conference, reporting Nili Naveh’s research in a seminar I proposed to discuss the research into childrens’ conceptions in computing. The central issue is the contrast in the attention paid to children’s conceptual development in maths and science compared to computing. In maths and science, research has established a Piagetian analysis based on data of what percentage of children can achieve which conceptual understanding at a range of ages, and this is the basis for the National Curriculum levels. Clearly this should not be used as a straitjacket – there is a diversity in attainment and children are often underestimated. Teachers have excellent tacit knowledge of this, but I argued it may be helpful to articulate this more clearly and to construct a data-gathering exercise from schools across the country. We had a good discussion, thanks to some really good presentations earlier in the day which gave good fuel for our debate. Here are my slides:¬† Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs.

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Se√°n and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome ūüėČ
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  РI already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

Analysis of a single interaction

I revived this Analysis of a single interaction recently thanks to a PhD student who is working on user-centred design. It was first developed in 1988 based on Donald Norman’s work, applied to the kind of computer software we were designing then. The ‘concept keyboard’ mentioned was a programmable touch pad from that era which enjoyed considerable popularity as it allowed an interface based on the developer’s own visual layout, suitable for younger and special needs pupils – a precursor of the iPad!

Quality & delight for business & learning

W Edwards Deming

Knowing my interest in delight in learning, colleague Derek Wenmoth pointed me to a post on Steve Denning’s blog, from which Derek quoted this:

“…management in the 20th Century was about achieving a finite goal: delivering goods and services, to make money. Management in the 21st Century by contrast is about the infinite goal of delighting customers; the firm makes money, yes, but as a consequence of the delight that it creates for customers, not as the goal.”

This reminded me of the way delight was discussed by W Edwards Deming:

“It will not suffice to have customers who are merely satisfied.” I would add, “They must be delighted.”

Deming was credited by the Japanese as being a major force in their rise to world economic power in the second half of the 20th Century, so Steve’s view that this is a 21st Century idea is a little late, although perhaps a reasonable observation about many western businesses.

Nevertheless it is good that Steve is promoting this and it is a short step from Deming’s assertion to say, as I would:

“It will not suffice to have learners who are merely attaining targets.” I would add, “They must be delighted.”

In Deming’s case, the policy of delighting customers leads to them spreading the word and returning to purchase more from your business, which sustains it. In my case, it is ensuring learners remain lifelong learners, whatever their attainment at any stage.

Mostly, it is those who attain highest who are delighted in learning, which is not to imply cause and effect, simply to observe these can go hand in hand. But this minority success does not sustain and develop the global community nearly so well as having everyone continuing to learn throughout their lives, because they delight in learning, no matter what their early attainment level may be.

And that is without even starting on the moral case for delight….

Research community

A model of community reseearch

Had a very useful meeting in University of Bolton with colleagues intent on developing a community of research – the diagram illustrates our joint efforts to come to terms with this idea, but it does not clarify the concern I have, which is to be confident who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ – I believe to have a conversation that supports learning, you have to feel ‘safe’ with your audience to take risks with ideas. This is exacerbated when you are online, since the audience may be unclear or grow later to include people your are not so sure about!

iPodTouch Conference Oldham

Richard Millwood at iPodTouch2010

A real buzz of learner-centred excitement surrounds the reports of iPod projects presented here – especially the desire to create rather than simply consume resources. Interesting reports of large and small scale use including ESSA Academy’s 1 to 1 roll-out. Working with Friezland‘s Year 3 was a treat and reinforced what I learnt from listening to delegates, that iPod and App store had simplified the whole management issue so much that kids and teachers could take charge and feel empowered.

More at the iPodTouchConf2010 Ning.

Content is muck


I have been reading¬† the report ‘On-line Innovation in Higher Education‘ submitted by Sir Ron Cooke to John Denham recently and I’m not impressed.

It seems to be but a variation on the ‘content is king’ theme and, by its own standards, seems to miss many points.

The title of this blog ‘Content is muck’ is intended to disparage this approach and at the same time recognise the importance of high quality, accessible content as a fertiliser for the growth of knowledge amongst learners.

Probably most critical is the following:

“2.5 The education and research sectors are not short of strategies but a visionary thrust across the UK is lacking.” p8

So where in this document is a vision outlined – where is it to come from? I (and many others) would be happy to offer one! But seriously, this is the moment and little here is visionary.

These further quotations from the document raised a range of issues:

“1.1 [..] We lag behind in generating and making available high quality modern learning and teaching
resources. [..]” p3

The difficulty I have with this is the way in which we go about catching up. We should be careful not to spend too much money on material which becomes out-of-date within a year, is specific to particular courses, contexts and levels or fails to enhance the creative r√īle for the learner in developing their own knowledge.

“3.15 [..] diagram [..] showing areas where students are currently pushed beyond their comfort zones.[..]” p12

The diagram referred to shows some ICT tasks in a grid with four quadrants – the top left shows tasks which are ‘”Familiar” / “Not comfortable using”¬† and includes “Using social networks such as Facebook as a formal part of the course”, but the task “Using existing online social networks to discuss work” is shown in the bottom right quadrant “Unfamiliar” / “Comfortable with using” – how can this be, what do they mean? Sadly the document lets us down here, with no reference to a source, unlike the bulk of the work. A report of this significance needs to be of the highest quality of it is to be convincing.

“3.19 [..] iv. where students tend to learn almost entirely at a distance (e.g. The Open University and the student base the UK e-university aimed for) high quality, purpose written, online materials and high quality online support services are essential;” p13

I agree in part, but what does “tend to learn almost entirely as a distance” mean? Is it not the case that¬† learning materials and support for face-to-face learning should be of similar standard? The unspoken assumption is that learning at a distance is solitary and thus the materials and support must compensate for the lack of ‘learning conversation’ – this is simply not the case in the modern social web.

We have had extensive experience over five years of fully online provision in the Ultraversity project where “purpose written, online materials” have been minimal. This has led to no lack of quality, as the guidance and support is generated through dialogue shared by a cohort of students – the online community of inquiry. Authoritative sources, journals and textbooks including key professional documents, are available widely on the internet and can be engaged with rigorously, critcially and comprehensively. This way of organising learning is most effective in that it also sets up the student for further lifelong learning.

“3.28 [..] The e-university was ahead of its time but the UK can learn from its mistakes and it is not too late to try again to address the demand for virtual, largely on-line education in the UK and
elsewhere. [..]”¬† p15

I think not – the e-university did not take a visionary nor innovative approach in my view and was not at all ahead of its time, but tried to take old approaches into new technology with minimal account of growing evidence of the efficacy of new models of online learning.

For the sake of my tax bill please lets not try again without considerably more care and wisdom!

New Learning ’08 – Connecting the Future to the Past

New Learning '08

This conference is taking place on Wednesday with about 50 folk – I know many others would have liked to come, but this is only a start and there’ll be more. For those unable to be there, there will be plenty of reporting to come, and you can download the conference pack and archive leaflet right here.

More importantly, if you have a story to contribute about your experiences with educational computing over the last four decades, contribute it in the stories section of the National Archive of Educational Computing website and if you want to do more, fill in the form in the support section.

Action inquiry-based learning

Action inquiry-based learning

The Learning Through Enquiry Alliance conference at Sheffield University is a breath of fresh air – practitioner led, but research oriented, but above all a sense of camaraderie with many others struggling with the ideas we have been exploring for the last five years.

A ‘world caf√©’ exercise to break the ice led to my re-draft of an action inquiry model on the tablecloth, adding my latest concern for ‘feeling’ based on my interest in John Heron’s work. I have added a ‘FEEL’ aspect – feeling the need to improve, feelng curiosity which relate to Heron’s ideas of zest and interest around delight. We have for a long time talked about exhibiton as a mode of assessment – I have clarified in this diagram by adding the word ‘celebrate’, that this is as important to feeling as it is to knowledge and communication.

Can we improve the future with lessons from our past?

Exchange Conference Centre at the Express Park, Bridgewater

I am giving the closing keynote in a few minutes at this venue for the JISC South Western Regional Support Centre’s Summer Conference. The theme is social software and naturally, I am speaking about the way we can build from past thinking and find foundations for future improvement.¬† Here are the slides as a PDF.

TeachMeet Redbridge (part 2)

TeachMeet 7

My first post about TeachMeet was a hurried blog in case Ewan offered a prize for the first person to Blog the event!

More reflection, and waiting until the end, allows a more thoughtful blog which fills in some of the blanks.

Blank 1 – why speak about delight?

It was delightful to be able to speak about delight, and to discuss with colleagues in the breaks to ‘orient’ my thinking about this important topic.

I failed to say that I care to make an analysis of delight for many reasons:

  1. I feel the need to put some intellectual effort into a mantra, ‘delight is important in learning’, which I have been chanting uncritically for over fifteen years.
  2. I believe delight is one of the sources of motivation, perseverance and retention which softens the pain of the ‘hard yards’ in learning.
  3. I believe delight (and more generally fulfilment) is an entitlement for learners, as they learn, not when they pass exams.

Blank 2 – what a stonking set of presentations!

I failed to mention the wealth of speakers and the high quality of their ideas and practices on parade. Egocentrically, and only after Drew Buddie had pointed it out, I was struck by the chickens coming home to roost from Ultralab‘s and Apple Teacher Institute work in the early ‘noughties’, such as movie making and stop-motion animations around social and serious issues. More moving were the confident presentations from folk like Sarah Hackett on using Moodle to teach folk fiddle and Tom Whitehead on animal shape poetry workshops, both researchers from Ultraversity, these along with many others were inspiring.

Blank 3 – FlashMeeting

I had volunteered to be the meeting end of an online video-conference for those who couldn’t be arsed couldn’t get to Redbridge. ūüôā Thanks to David Noble, Anthony Evans and Nic Hughes for making it all so easy. It seemed to work well, using FlashMeeting and connecting my Apple MacBook Pro to a Canon digital video camera with a firewire cable and using a directional microphone to get the best quality – I rely on reports from participants as to whether this was effective and I apologise now for the time through the break when I went to get a beer and got cornered in the bar – I came back to find the camera pointing at the ceiling! I only regret not carrying through my original plan to use a second data projector so that the audience in the building could see the participants out there and perhaps respond to their questions and comments. Next time.