“It’s Just A Fad…”
If you’ve been in Education long enough you are bound to encounter the cynics who have ‘seen it all before’. Sometimes their negativity towards the new and the untried is justifed, but sometimes their views need to be challenged if we are to move education forward and make it relevant in the eyes of those we serve….
Just recently, I had the pleasure of getting to spend time chatting to some newly qualified teachers (NQTs) who are completing their probationary year in Scottish schools. As ever, I was struck by their very high calibre, their enthusiasm and their desire to try new things. The very best have an insatiable curiousity about what can make a difference in the classroom and an openness to new ideas and thinking. They see the potential of blogs and wikis and a whole panoply of Web2.0 tools for fulfilling the aims of Scottish Education’s A Curriculum for Excellence… so it was more than a little disappointing to learn of the obstacles that established colleagues are throwing in their way.
I could give a list of specific examples that the NQTs told me of, but the one that was mentioned more than once, and which I believe is not just symptomatic of Scottish Education, was that many experienced and senior teachers believe that Web2.0, a.k.a. the read/write web, was ‘just a fad…’ Nothing saddens me more than such a dismissive attitude of the profound changes that are happening in the world and which must be reflected in the education we provide our pupils if they are to succeed as the lifelong learners that society demands.
One of the key strengths of A Curriculum for Excellence is that it encourages a move from assessment for assessment’s sake towards a more experiential and collaborative model for education. Group working and project based learning become an integral part of the learning experience, but unfortunately, this is grist to the mill for the cynics. You see, they’ve “…seen it all before…”. Project based learning was in vogue in the past and fell by the wayside – discredited because of the nebulous and insubstantial skills it fostered in favour of assessment, assessment, assessment. Being honest, I can actually understand some of the arguments, but what the cynics have failed to recognise is that ‘project based learning’ lies at the heart of what we as professional educators do all the time.
As educators, we sit on collegiate panels, we take part in committees, we work with others all the time be that at department/yeargroup/school/authority or national level…. Indeed, many of the most vocal nay-sayers are complaining about the ‘project-based fad’ at the committees they are members of, or expected to attend as part of their professional responsibilities… Am I alone in recognising the irony of that position? The danger is that, by virtue of their seniority, many of the most vocal critics of new ideas are chairing these committees and using their positions to obstruct change. They do so for the best of reasons, they are trying to protect colleagues from working on something they feel is a waste of time, based on their previous experience of changes in education, but the truth is, their position is becoming more and more untenable and unacceptable.
I strongly believe that one of the reasons that ‘project-based learning’ fell into disrepute in the first place is because it was being espoused at a time when, quite simply, the tools were not there to support it… this is no longer an acceptable excuse.
Karl Fisch recently won the Edublog award for last year’s most influential post with Is It Okay To Be A Technologically Illiterate Teacher?… If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you read it and also the Terry Freedman post that sparked Karl’s rant. The sad fact is that the teachers they refer to are all too common. We still have teachers who do not have the skills that are accepted as a norm in the ‘real world’. And like Terry and Karl, I think the time has come to force the issue.
Scottish teachers have a contractual obligation to participate in CPD (Continuing Professional Development) which means that they are contractually required to hone and improve their skills for the benefit of the pupils. To me, the answer is simple, some of this time should be given over to ensuring that teachers have attained an agreed level of competence in using computers. There should be no exceptions to this.
My two and a half year old son can already open a browser and use desktop shortcuts to load his favourite site. After a recent In-service day, I regret to say that I have encountered some teachers who are not as competent as he is… and I’m going to be really annoyed if he is not being taught how to improve his skills when he goes to school in a few years. But on current progress, I can’t see that happening.
The introduction of GLOW throws the necessity of having a reasonable level of competence in using computers centre stage, and I think we need to realise one thing. It is not really enough for teachers to have a ‘basic competence’. I believe that our teachers need to be more than competent if they are to make best use of the tools that are at our disposal and that the pupils are already using. If we are to maintain any sort of authority in the classroom, if we are to be respected as practitioners, if we are to mentor our pupils effectively, then we need to be leading by example. Nothing else will do, anything else is failing the pupils we serve… or am I wrong to think we need all teachers to be more effective users of ICT?