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IP10: A new materialistic approach to the blackboard

McLuhan (1977) stated that “all man’s artefacts […] are extensions of the physical human body” (p.175). Applied to the blackboard, this statement suggests that, originally, the blackboard allowed teachers and students to display semi-permanently and to share the information that was relevant to them at that specific point in time.


Fast forward 40 years, scholars such as Toohey argue that “people, practices and things [are] continually in relation, under construction and changing together” (2018, p. 29). This new materialism shifts educational researchers and practitioners’ inquiries from “how does this work?” to much more dynamic questions such as “what is this tool becoming?” and “how are we, as humans, and our non-human tools, entangled?” In other words, new materialism studies matter not for what it is (its essence), but for what it does and its capacities to act and affect (its agency) (Monforte, 2018). Furthermore, this framework explores how the entanglement of human and non-human entities co-creates and influences each other’s agencies (Hill, 2017).


In an educational context, it suggests that the tools we bring into our learning environments are not inert objects. Rather, they have the power and agency to mediate numerous interactions: student-to-student, student-to-teacher, student-to-material, and teacher-to-material relationships can all be altered by the types of objects (e.g. table & chairs, blackboard & interactive whiteboards, tablets & computers, molecular models & representations) present in our learning spaces. For instance, teachers used more open-ended questions and students’ participation quality and quantity increased after interactive whiteboard was installed in primary classrooms (Murcia & Sheffield, 2010). This is an example of how the presence of a technology – and its intra-actions – positioned both learners and teachers as dynamic entities whose vision of the world expanded while living within this material environment.


A historical review of the use of the blackboard in our classrooms also nicely highlights how a new materialistic framework expands our understanding of the intra-actions of educational technology onto our societies. James Pillan, a UK geography teacher, is credited for the invention of the blackboard in the early 1800s. From that point onward, the blackboard provided an economical, user-friendly, and well-accepted educational tool (Wylie, 2012). This arguably opened the door to 1) the provision of universal elementary education in the UK in 1870 and 2) to the standardization of English education. Recently, Charteris and colleagues (2017) argued that the promotion of innovative learning environments (ILEs) in New Zealand is brought upon by the pressures exerted by knowledge economy. Similarly, the blackboard carried considerable political power and agency as it facilitated massification of education at a time where the industrial revolution required a large influx of scholarized workers. This nicely illustrates how humans and non-humans are entangled and co-create each other’s agencies, a fundamental pillar of new materialism (Hill, 2017).



Charteris, J., Smardon, D., & Nelson, E. (2017). Innovative learning environments and new materialism: A conjunctural analysis of pedagogic spaces. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 49:8, 808-821.

Hill, C. (2017). More-than-reflective practice: Becoming a diffractive practitioner. Teacher Learning and Professional Development, 2(1): 1-17.

McLuhan, M. (197). Laws of the media. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 34(2): 173-9.

Monforte, J. (2018). What is new in new materialism for a newcomer? Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 10(3): 378-90.

Murcia, K., Sheffield, R. (2010). Talking about science in interactive whiteboard classrooms. Australasian Journal of Education Technology, 26 (4): 417-31.

Toohey, K. (2018). New materialism and language learning. In Toohey, K. (Ed.) Learning English at school: Identity, socio-material relations and classroom practice. (Chapter 2). Multilingual Matters: Bristol.

Wylie, C. D. (2012). Teaching manuals and the blackboard: accessing historical classroom practices. History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, 41(2), 257-272.


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Educational Theories in Action – An analysis of @ProfCoe’s Twitter Feed

Dr. Robert Coe (@ProfCoe) started his career as a high school mathematics teacher, before earning a PhD and becoming a Professor of Education and the Director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University, in Durham, England from 2010-2018. He currently holds the title of Director of Research and Development at Evidence-based Education (EBE; @EvidenceinEdu), a company whose mission is to “improve key educational outcomes” through evidence-based practice and professional development (EBE, 2020). Dr. Coe is also a Senior Associate for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF; @EducEndowFoundn), a charitable organization dedicated to breaking the link between socio-economic status and academic achievement (EEF, 2020). As a result, and as the following analysis will reveal, Dr. Coe’s Twitter account provides an interesting blend of academic, business, and not-for-profit views of educational theories in action.

Educational research methodology is a recurrent theme from ProfCoe’s twitter activities as he is a strong advocate for evidence-based education and teachers’ training. However, while the catch phrase “evidence-based” typically carries authoritative power, ProfCoe’s tweets and re-tweets highlight the importance of basing our educational practice not only on evidence, but on high-quality evidence. For instance, one of his posts (Figure 1) directs the reader to a blog post by Robert Slavin, Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at John Hopkins University, that breaks down key factors to recognize strong and fair meta-analyses in educational settings (Slavin, 2020). Similarly, another tweet highlights a blog post by Thomas Martell, a science high school teacher with a passion for data, who argues that if a claim exists – realistic or not –, you can find evidence to support it (Figure 2) (Martell, 2020). He shares that, as part of an experiment in his class, it took at most 20 minutes for students to find support for even the wildest education claims. His take-home message is for internet-consuming educators to heighten their critical awareness of low-quality data by having an open-mind, by recognizing one’s own personal biases, by being cautious of single studies, and by looking for both confirmatory and contradictory evidence (Martell, 2020).


Figure 1. ProfCoe re-tweets a blogpost that encourages critical analysis of the meta-analysis within an educational context.

Figure 2. ProfCoe re-tweets a blogpost that shows that finding data is easy, but finding good quality data requires an open mind and an awareness of one’s own biases.  

Expanding on this theme, ProfCoe’s tweet from October 11 (Figure 3) exemplified how adopting educational practices without empirical support may be detrimental. In this case, he shared a link that critiques the widespread support that coloured filters have gained to “help” people with dyslexia despite a lack of evidence supporting their effectiveness (Law, 2019). On one hand, rigorous double-blind studies and systematic reviews have found no significant effects of these filters on reading ability. On the other hand, 6 of out 8 UK dyslexia organization uncritically promote these products on their websites (Henderson et al, 2014; Law, 2019), thus leading to false hope and unnecessary expenses for patients with dyslexia. Taken together, ProfCoe’s twitter feed shows a sensitivity not only to use data to inform practice, but to critically reflect on the quality of the data on which we base our educational decisions.

Figure 3. ProfCoe shares an example of how widespread educational practices without supporting evidence can cause more harm than benefits. 

Another strong aspect of ProfCoe’s Twitter presence is to challenge accepted “truths” in education. Indeed, several tweets provide a different angle or diverging data on accepted practices in education. For instance, retrieval practice benefits from the support of several well-designed studies (Bjork et al, 2013; Hartwig & Dunlosky, 2012; Karpicke et al, 2009). Yet, ProfCoe challenges this conception (Figure 4) based, at least in part, on the fact that data from well-controlled experiments in a laboratory setting with relatively simple things to learn (e.g. list of words) cannot compare to the complexity of learning in a classroom where material may be more demanding, requires higher-order thinking, and is embedded in social and cultural contexts (Coe, 2020). He posts a similar critique of the well-loved knowledge organizer (Figure 5, Quigley, 2020).

Figure 4. ProfCoe re-tweets one of his own article that challenges the efficacy of retrieval practice.

Figure 5. ProfCoe re-tweets a blog post that exposes the limitations of (and the alternatives to) the knowledge organizer.

Finally, ProfCoe shared a LA Times article that further exemplifies how he uses his Twitter voice to challenge the educational status quo with data (Figure 6). Written by Prof Daniel T. Willingham, from the department of psychology at the University of Victoria, the article capitalizes on data and offers suggestions on how to to enrich the “Zoom lectures” with social cues as a way to improve learning outcomes in online settings (Willingham, 2020). Willingham suggests that learning is optimal when it can rely on social cues. Through videoconferencing, most social cues are stripped away, which negatively affect learning. This is not too different from Taylor’s thesis (1996) who stated that social interactions, once border issues in higher education, became central concerns once the switch to online learning occurred. Willingham then proposes an innovative evidence-based solution: the presence of a facilitator, such as a parent, during online learning, to restore some of the sociality in the learning process. In summary, when ProfCoe tweets and re-tweets, he typically chooses blogposts and articles that share data that are a bit off the beaten path. In this regard, ProfCoe’s voice on Twitter nicely aligns with this course’s philosophy to critically appraise even the most popular educational theories and thoroughly examine whether other factors can be at play.  

Figure 6. ProfCoe re-tweets a LA Times article that find evidence-based alternatives to the lack of sociality in online learning.

Interestingly, all but one tweets highlighted above share the common feature of directing the audience to a third party’s blog post. Importantly, the authors of these blogs are all respected educational practitioners, many of whom with advanced degrees. However, ProfCoe rarely directly shares peer-reviewed literature – a type of communication that would interest mostly academics – but focuses on the associated blog articles that describe, dissect, and disseminate the main findings of the original articles. This suggests a desire to make educational data and their implications available to a larger public. Given that the large majority of educators act in primary and secondary school settings and likely have limited experience with peer-reviewed literature, focusing on blog articles is an effective way to promote evidence-based practices in an audience-friendly way. Admittedly, this type of communication is limited in terms of nuances it can offer: good blog posts are condensed, entertaining, and informative – not comprehensive, detailed, and rigorous. However, this is a trade-off I suspect ProfCoe made very deliberately: let’s remember that ProfCoe now works for a company that promotes evidence-based education. Indeed, by far the single largest contributor to ProfCoe’s tweets is his company’s twitter account (@EvidenceInEdu) that directly promotes their activities (Appendix 1). Thus, reaching a larger group of educators via blog posts and accessible messages not only promotes his ideas, but also publicizes his business activities.

In conclusion, ProfCoe’s Twitter feed portrays educational theories as being dynamic entities that are susceptible to challenging views and diverging data. Applying McLuhan’s tetrad (1977) to Twitter, one could hypothesize that Twitter reverses the need for meaningful ideas as it is restricted to 140 characters. However, this limitation does not prevent ProfCoe to communicate complex ideas, integrate data, and discuss their implications and he does so by directing his audience to a number of external links. This process, however, introduces a third party in the communication: ProfCoe no longer communicates directly with his audience; rather, ProfCoe lends his platform to a number of different authors with whom – we assume – he shares similar viewpoints. This method of communication also enhances the authority of ProfCoe’s message. In fact, Olson (1980) mentioned that “criticism is least likely when ideas have both some validity and a transcendental source” (p. 194). While Olson refers to textbook in this case, ProfCoe’s ability to share his voice with other academic authors who discuss peer-reviewed evidence achieves both aspects: not one, but two “transcendental sources” convey a message anchored in data and validity.



Bjork, R. A., Dunlosky, J., & Kornell, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning: Beliefs, techniques, and illusions. Annual Review of Psychology64, 417-444.

Coe, R. (2020). Robert Coe Twitter. Retrieved from on October 25, 2020.

Coe, R. Does research on retrieval practice translate into classroom practice? Retrieved from on October 29, 2020.

Evidence-based education (2020). Our values. Retrieved from on October 25, 2020.

Educational Endowment Foundation (2020). About the EEF. Retrieved from on October 25, 2020.

Hartwig, M. K., & Dunlosky, J. (2012). Study strategies of college students: Are self-testing and scheduling related to achievement? Psychonomic bulletin & review19(1), 126-134.

Henderson, L.M., Taylor, R.H., Barrett, B., Griffiths, P.G. (2014). Treating reading difficulties with colour. BMJ 349: g5160.

Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger III, H. L. (2009). Metacognitive strategies in student learning: do students practise retrieval when they study on their own? Memory17(4), 471-479.

Law, J. (2019). A rose-tinted cure: the myth of coloured overlays and dyslexia. Retrieved from on October 29, 2020.

Martell, T. (2020). Can you really find research to support any idea? Retrieved form on October 29, 2020.

McLuhan, M. (1977). Laws of the media. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 34(2), 173-179.

Olson, D. (1980). On the Language and Authority of Textbooks. Journal of Communication 30, 1, 186–196.

Quigley, A. (2020). Is it time to KO the knowledge organizer? Retrieved from on October 29, 2020.

Slavin, R. (2020). How can you tell when the findings of a meta-analysis are likely to be valid? Retrieved from on October 25, 2020.

Taylor, Peter G. (1996). Pedagogical challenges of open learning: Looking to borderline issues. In E. McWilliam & P.G. Taylor (eds) Pedagogy, Technology and the Body. New York: Peter Lang.

Willingham, D.T. (2020). Op-Ed: Why remote learning is hard – and how to make it easier. Retrieved from on October 30, 2020.

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IP5: Wands away, quills out!

Peter Taylor’s 1996 writings on the pedagogical challenges facing online learning find a strange contemporary relevance since covid forced a large majority of post-secondary courses to migrate to online delivery. Central to Taylor’s thesis (1996) is that online learning disrupts the “taken-for-granted” interactions between the material and social aspects of education. In many ways, University-based instruction is still seen in a traditional light where knowledge is built socially, via discussions and interactions amongst students and scholars – a vision of education that is also very prevalent in most Harry Potter series (Johnson, 2015), except for the unfortunate encounter with Dolores Umbridge. This sociality involves reciprocal communications – and thus, some level of shared power – between learners and teachers. Furthermore, Taylor (1996) illustrates that sociality, typically relegated to the periphery of scholars’ attention, is actually crucial to the central mission of higher education.  He then argues that online learning disrupts these social conventions, consequently impeding the educational process of knowledge building and sharing. In his words, “what was once border [social aspects of learning] now becomes centre.” (Taylor, 1996, p.76).

Some online learning supporters have suggested that virtual learning environments are, by design, necessarily more student-centered than face-to-face instruction. To those, Taylor (1996) responds that, to the contrary, the shift to online learning has reinforced a “curriculum-centered” educational approach at least in part because the context in which education takes place has not been thoroughly considered in pedagogical decisions. This content vs. context dichotomy is clearly represented in Dolores Umbridge’s approach to Defence against the dark arts teaching. Indeed, it is clear that she and the Ministry of Magic endorse a “risk-free” and content-heavy approach to education:


“Using defensive spells? […] Well, I can’t imagine any situation arising in my classroom that would require you to use a defensive spell, Miss Granger.” (Rowling, 2003, p. 218)


However, their theoretical and disembodied method fails to take into consideration the out-of-school environment in which students live: one where the dark arts are alive and gaining strength. This anxiolytic context – not too different from a global pandemic, really – clearly influences students’ interests, motivations, and social interactions. Yet, these students’ characteristics are sadly ignored at the expense of teacher-centred methods dictated by “Ministry-trained educational experts” (Rowling, 2003, p.218). As a result, the learning outcomes and methods described by Dolores Umbridge definitely “offer students an impoverished world stripped of social and cultural support” (p.69), one of Taylor’s (1996) main fears with regard to virtual learning.

Taylor (1996) also highlights that students’ autonomy, a critical aspect of academic success, has traditionally been supported by informal – almost invisible – social interactions between students and instructors. This status quo has obviously been shaken up with the recent pandemic and I personally witness students who are disproportionately anxious, overwhelmed, disoriented, and lonely compared to previous cohorts. Let’s be clear: I believe that many students are adequately equipped to navigate the demands and expectations of online learning. However, I think at-risk students are more alienated and isolated than they previously were. Similarly, I also feel increasingly powerless to adequately guide these students due to increased workload and the constraints of online communication. In other words, the ever-expanding need for personal, sensitive, and timely communication is in direct conflict with the limited human and technical resources currently available to online teachers. Put together, this discordance aligns with Taylor’s (1996) fears that, under the current conditions, online learning disrupts social tissues in higher education, puts additional pressures on both students and instructors, and thus may negatively affect the educational experience and outcomes.



Johnson, M. C. (2015). Wands or Quills? Lessons in Pedagogy from Harry Potter. In CEA Forum 44, 2, 75-91. College English Association.

Rowling, J.K. (2003). Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Vancouver: Raincoast Books.

Taylor, Peter G. (1996). Pedagogical challenges of open learning: Looking to borderline issues. In E. McWilliam & P.G. Taylor (eds) Pedagogy, Technology and the Body (pp.59-77). New York: Peter Lang.

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Intellectual Production #4 – Clickers & Textbooks

This 4th intellectual production compares and contrasts clickers and textbooks and their effects on learners-teachers communications and relationships.


Caldwell, J. E. (2007). Clickers in the large classroom: Current research and best-practice tips. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 6(1), 9-20.

Draper, S. W. (1998). Niche-based success in CAL. Computers & Education, 30(1-2), 5-8.

Frank, A. W. (1995). Lecturing and transference: The undercover work of pedagogy. Pedagogy: The question of impersonation, 28-35.

Jagušt, T., Botički, I., & So, H. J. (2018). Examining competitive, collaborative and adaptive gamification in young learners’ math learning. Computers & education, 125, 444-457.

Olson, D. (1980). On the Language and Authority of Textbooks. Journal of Communication 30, 1, 186–196.

Watt, I. (1964). The Seminar. Higher Education Quaterly, 18, 369-389.

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Intellectual Production #2 – Blackboard





McLuhan, M. (1977). Laws of the media. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 34(2), 173-179.

Ressler, S. J. (2004). Whither the chalkboard? Case for a low-tech tool in a high-tech world, Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 130(2), 71-73.

San Martin, J., & Veyrunes, P. (2015). Appropriation du tableau noir et expérience corporelle: le cas d’une enseignante de primaire au Chili. Recherches & Éducations13, 41-58.

Wylie, C. D. (2012). Teaching manuals and the blackboard: accessing historical classroom practices. History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, 41(2), 257-272. doi: 10.1080/0046760X.2011.584573

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Intellectual Production #1

The field of media ecology examines the complex interactions between modes of information and communication, the technologies that allow them, and their effects on human feelings, behaviors, and thoughts (Lum, 2000). Including the term “ecology” is not fortuitous, it directly reflects that media create environments that constrain how we communicate, how we behave, how we think. Akin to “biological environments” that shape how living organisms survive and strive, “media environments” carry unique affordances that mold how the human race interact through and within this ecosystem.

Extending this concept to education, educational media ecology would be the interdisciplinary study and critical exploration of the relationships that exist between learning environments and the culture, communication, cognitive, behavioral and affective processes that take place within this context (Figure 1). Indeed, meaningful learning occurs through a series of two-way interactions between learner-content, learner-peers, and learner-instructor. The nature, quality, and quantity of these interactions are influenced by the affordances of the media through which they occur. Practically, this means that humans interact differently based on the environment in which the communication occurs. While “learning environments” are clearly not restricted to virtual spaces, the recent covid-19-induced shift towards online learning and working provided several examples of this phenomenon within technology-mediated learning environments. For instance, differences in engagement and motivation were obvious between meetings where videos were activated compared to those where only audio was shared. In my own experience, the former sparked more valuable discussions while the latter increased multi-tasking and reduced interest. This is a prime example of educational media ecology focusing on the effects of the media rather than its internal structures (Mumford, as stated in Lum & Strate, 2000).

In return, the quality and quantity of interactions that technology-mediated learning environments promote further affect how humans feel, think and behave (Figure 1). Indeed, the very nature of the technology affects learners’ affective, behavioral and cognitive processes that are central to the learning process. This aligns well with Lum’s (2000) description of media where he argued that diverging symbolic and physical media forms ultimately carry epistemological biases. In other words, the learning environment that media create directly affects how knowledge is accessed, created, and disseminated.

Other crucial features that emerged from this week’s readings is Mumford’s belief in human’s agency and responsibility in creating, shaping and regulating what technology-mediated environments are and are allowed to do (Lum & State, 2000). This highlights the obligation we have, as learners and educators, not only to be critically aware of the inherent biases brought upon by the learning environments we use and create, but also to explicitly assert our control over how media is established and developed.



Lum, C. M. K. (2000). Introduction: The intellectual roots of media ecology. New Jersey New Jersey Journal of Communication, 8:1, 1-7, DOI: 1080/15456870009367375

Strate, L., & Lum, C. M. K. (2000). Lewis Mumford and the ecology of technics. New Jersey Journal of Communication, 8:1, 56-78, DOI: 1080/15456870009367379

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