Thursday, 24 September 2009

The BBC responds.

A week had gone by and there was no response from BBC Education News to my email informing them of my blog post "Tech addiction 'harms learning' .....really??? $24.99 and I am no wiser". I probably would have left it at that.

The post was about an alarmingly titled BBC online news story on a study set in an English secondary school, that could only be accessed by spending $24.99. I did buy it and I used this blog to inform others who were interested but didn't purchase it. My finding was that this was a piece of poor research, done by people without backgrounds in education, and presented in a way that suggested that any peer-review process it had been near was 'light touch' in approach. In short, this Sigel Press "Special Report" didn't live up to the publisher's claim that it would contain "groundbreaking information", be "written by global experts", and be an "indispensible resource[s] to keep you up to speed in your field." For the record, my field is not secondary school education. I am a doctor and a university teacher and researcher. I maintain this blog as a way of connecting with others in the wider education community. Several of my past posts have criticised the methodology of peer-reviewed research on the use of new media in medicine; research which has been more or less reported in a positive way. I make it clear on this blog that I don't support the use of technology "for the sake of it", to the extent that I have on occasion gained the moniker "web 2.0 skeptic". And if there was evidence that the use of the internet or other tech really did harm learning, I would want to know about it. I'm not a push-over.

I emailed BBC Education News because I thought that anyone who had the report in their hands would have reached the same conclusions as me. I emailed Cranfield University PR department as well, and they thanked me and said they would pass my comments to the authors immediately. I didn't really expect to get any responses.

But Paul Bradshaw wasn't happy. He is a senior lecturer in journalism at Birmingham City University. He had emailed the BBC Education department as well and today he started chasing for a response. On the off chance I emailed the BBC again and 30 minutes later there was a reply to the email sent a week earlier. This is from Gary Eason, the BBC News website education editor:

"Hi Anne Marie
Thank you for your thoughts. The author of the article did have the whole report in front of her and interviewed one of the authors. I do not agree that our headline is "sensationalist".
best wishes

OK, we can agree to disagree I suppose. But then I saw Paul's blog post about the matter. His interaction with Mr. Eason was considerably longer and contains the following quote:

"It seems to me the results don’t fit her world view so she sets about rubbishing them. Is she seriously arguing that ‘cut-and-paste plagiarism’ is not a problem?”

Spot the logical fallacies. This study was not good science and should not have been reported by the BBC. My worldview has nothing to do with it and is simply a red herring. In any case as I have pointed out above, I am not dogmatic about the place of technology in education. I look for evidence to inform me about what we should be doing.

Next , we have the straw-man attempt to rubbish my blog post. I made no comment at all on whether plagiarism is a problem. All of us working in education know that this can be an issue if assessments are designed badly. But my argument was that this research told us nothing about the relationship between learning and 'addiction to technology'. It possibly could have done as the researchers had data which could have been analysed to tell us something about this. But they didn't. Yes, it was a small study with a dubious response rate but they failed to make the best of the data they had.

Tom Morris comments on Paul Bradshaw's blog that this is a "perfect example of a glaring editorial problem". I think I agree. What do you think?


  1. Great reply Anne-Marie. It would be good to quiz the BBC Editor whether he managed to get through his education without plagiarising, I know I couldn't - it was just a little bit more time-consuming as you had to keep stopping to dip the quill in the ink-pot. One might further (with tongue in cheek) suggest that journalism and plagiarism walk hand-in-hand, and the best journalism is when full attribution and partnership is pursued, and the worst when the message/text is hacked in some way.

  2. Nothing like hiding behind the question, he'll probably move in to politics, like all the media 'greats'. Proper scary stuff.

    I shall be staying cynical.


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