Educating Time

Wooden hourglass

The flow of sand in an hourglass can be used to keep track of elapsed time. It also concretely represents the present as being between the past and the future.

Before Christmas I had coffee with a Cambridge friend & colleague Mona Nosrati, and (don’t worry, amongst other things) we talked about how grounded theory analysis, and discourse data gets represented and why the representational tools are important. A lot of that was around temporal aspects of the data – that ‘b’ comes after ‘a’ matters, and collapsing the two into a count loses something. So I’ve been playing with some of those ideas with a view to writing something longer as below – any reading suggestions v. welcome.


Time is fundamental to education and development. Indeed, the title introduces a productive ambiguity – the duration of time one spends in education is a hot topic, with increasing pressure on state schools to extend opening hours and reduce holiday time. Yet, while there is some evidence to support increasing contact time, many also note the rather shorter term times of private schools and universities (including Oxford and Cambridge). Time, then, is not simply a matter of raw duration; it is not, as one reading of the title suggests, about the quantity of time in education.

Indeed, talk about time implicates talk about various other notions and contextual environmental factors.  Time or timeliness is also fundamental to education in other ways.  Timely feedback is seen as a crucial component of effective assessment, and in modelling answers for students or providing examples, many of the best cases are so good because they are so timely, aligning with current events or mores (or indeed making reference to historical pop culture).  Moreover, educational policies fundamentally implicate perspectives on temporal aspects of learning and educational aims.  Some emphasise behaviours we hope to inculcate for a lifetime’s deployment (whether these are virtues, soft skills, ‘knowledge economy’ skills or whatever), while others emphasise a ‘canon’ of knowledge largely unchanging over time.  Of course, in both temporal aspects are also at play in practical contexts with only limited time at our disposal with those students to induct them into our curricula and assess their presence.

Clearly time plays a fundamental role in education. It relates to how we divide up our days into lessons, what activities are worthwhile within those lessons, the ethics of how time is spent, the ways in which we assess success (as a proportion of time – where in different contexts both long and brief durations are considered positive), the spotting of particular events, and so on.  Indeed, ‘time’ relates to various concepts and ways of thinking about measurement from counts of events in particular moments of time, to the measurement of duration.

Over the last month or so I’ve been thinking about the temporal aspects of some of the work I’ve been doing, and what conceptual distinctions might be made, around:

  1. Demarcation of time (or events)
  2. The sequence or passing of time (processes)
  3. Something around reified narratives with past/present/future orientations

In particular I’ve been thinking about:

  1. The way time (duration) is demarcated in research contexts (E.g. duration of speech, versus number of turns, word counts,  etc.).
  2. The ways sequence and dialogue processes are represented in research – in machine learning contexts this is about feature selection, as is true in more traditional discourse analysis contexts (although it wouldn’t be called that).
  3. The ways in which we think about the construction of ‘what is going on’ in educational contexts and sequences of learning. My old supervisor Neil Mercer wrote a nice piece “The seeds of time: why classroom dialogue needs a temporal analysis”

One of the reasons this is interesting me, is I think it has practical applicability:

  1. Many representational tools – Wikis, other hypermedia discourse environments, even things like pen and paper – support particular analyses of duration or quantification of time. Indeed, people like Dan Suthers and Sten Ludvigsen have explored some of these issues
  2. In work on use of Interactive White Boards and other such tools, one thing that has been discussed is the notion of an ‘improvable object’ – a shared resource which can be acted on to develop over time. Understanding the sequence of construction in such contexts is important.
  3. In dialogue such as coaching dialogue, or mock (/or real) interviews, we often ‘reify’ particular narratives, telling a temporally oriented story about how historic and future developments meet. Setting such narratives is an important part of learning, and depends on an ability to tell a story about the past that is future oriented, and think about mile stones and goals that are clearly temporally located but where the specifics of time (duration elapsed, perhaps even sequence of events) are less important.

More to follow…

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

This Post Has 2 Comments

Leave A Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

%d bloggers like this: