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“It’s Just A Fad…”

March 12, 2008

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….

Scratching... 07Just 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.

Edublog Awards LogoKarl 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.

Boowa Kwala PaulMy 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?

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2008 10:34 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post! It amazes me that new teachers think technology is a fad. Is that what teachers thought when we left slates and moved to paper and pencil? Maybe that is what teachers thought when computers first came out and that is why they are so slow to learn because they are hoping it will go away. They need to face reality and realize that the students will be leaving the teachers behind if they aren’t careful.

  2. March 12, 2008 10:45 pm

    Hi Pat…

    I’ve not phrased the point very well! The new teachers are very keen to try new things (in general) but are being dissuaded by the ‘experienced’ teachers… this really has to change!

    I’m reminded of Vikkii Davis’ great post about the power of a newbie with regards to blogging. I really do believe that a new teacher has also got an awful lot to offer a department and school. It is our job as more experienced colleagues to help them realise their ambitions, even if that sometimes means letting them try things that we don’t appreciate.

    For me, an ideal department has that essential mix of old and new thinking and encourages discussion and debate rather than out-of-hand dismissal.

  3. March 12, 2008 11:09 pm

    It is a concern at every level we need to do more to become a digitally literate society Teachers and many pupils need a lot of support to get there – if they can’t do basics – they have no chance of really understanding and exploiting this new medium.

    It is challenge in broader society too.

    It is just not true that all young people know how to use these tools.

    You should see the interesting messages we get as we increasingly move our basic communications on line – many struggle with basic on-line form filling or accessing basic attachments on email.

    Challenge for SQA in this space is do we move ahead of our audience / customers or .. We have high hopes that GLOW will be platform that allows better two way communication in our small potentially dynamic education system.

  4. March 12, 2008 11:15 pm

    Oops! I read it too fast and got it backwards. That is even scarier that experienced teachers are influencing new teachers in a negative way. That is why I loved student teachers in my room because I couldn’t wait to learn from them. They usually had the current “new stuff” and I couldn’t wait to pick their brains for stuff they knew that I didn’t. I took the new stuff and put it with my experience in the classroom to show the student teacher how to successfully use the new stuff in the classroom. I hope I modeled for the new teacher that there will always be “new stuff” to learn and how to apply it in the classroom. I wanted to show that this is the way teaching evolves and meets the needs of the students.

  5. March 12, 2008 11:16 pm

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the TeachMeetPerth mention on your own blog, and I was sorry you couldn’t join us (this time!)

    I think that we might need someone like the SQA to help drive the changes. Unless there is an element of compulsion involved, it is too easy to say that one doesn’t have the time/desire/aptitude to learn a skill. Make it a necessity, and it’s amazing what can be done. (I’m thinking about the effort pupils put into their driving tests compared to their Highers at the moment rather than teachers per se.)

    Like you, I hope that GLOW will give a much needed impetus to a wider recognition and realization that we need to collectively raise our skill set if we are to be of use to tomorrow’s pupils.

  6. March 12, 2008 11:16 pm

    This experienced teacher (ex-teacher? or do we never really give up?) shares your despair. I don’t suppose it’d make you feel any better if I tell you the church is even worse – I had to do a basic presentation last week to try to prevent the members of my impoverished diocese insisting on driving miles (and claiming eccies) to meetings that could perfectly well be Skyped.

    But it might amuse you if I say I was reminded by a phrase you use of Kipling’s “satiable curtiosity” – was that The Elephant’s Child?

  7. March 12, 2008 11:21 pm

    Hi Chris…

    I’m not surprised that some of our most cherished institutions are so reluctant (or just downright slow) to adapt (adopt?). It goes back to the element of compulsion that I mention in my reply to Joe. Basically, we need someone to give us a kicj up the backside! 😉

    Incidentally, “Do you like Kipling?” “I don’t know. I’ve never Kippled.”

  8. March 12, 2008 11:23 pm

    @ Pat:
    I completely agree about new teachers. I might be gaining some probationer teachers after the summer (way to early to know for sure at the moment)… the real key for me is to deploy them so they can learn from the experienced teachers in the department but also teach the experienced members of the department! I’m really looking forward to the challenge!

  9. March 13, 2008 1:14 am

    Thanks for the mention, Neil. I had another rant about standards today:
    http://terry-freedman.org.uk/artman/publish/article_1263.php

    best wishes
    Terry

  10. March 18, 2008 3:02 pm

    Not that it’s any consolation, but we hear many of the same excuses in the U.S. (that project-based learning takes too much time or effort/won’t raise test scores/fill in the blank). For many teachers (both veteran and newly qualified), part of the challenge is that they’ve never experienced this kind of open-ended learning themselves, at least not in the classroom. Meanwhile, in real life, they’re up to their elbows in projects! They just haven’t made the connection yet.
    When I hear from teachers who decide to give the project approach a try, I always ask about their motivation. I’m noticing a small but growing group who are new to teaching but experienced in other careers. Out in the “real world,” they have been using Web 2.0 tools, collaborating, and contributing to team efforts. It’s just the way the world works. They figure, why not bring the same approach into teaching and learning?
    One such teacher has offered to share her next project experience so that others can watch it unfold. In case you want to follow along (or, better yet, offer some encouragement), here’s a post that provides some background: http://reinventingpbl.blogspot.com/2008/03/watching-project-unfold.html
    Thanks,
    Suzie

  11. March 19, 2008 1:38 am

    Hi Suzie,

    It’s not nice to know that this is not just a local problem, but it’s good to hear that some educators are beginning to realise the potential…

    …and thanks for the link! One to read at leisure over the holiday weekend.

    Cheers,
    Mr W

  12. Dorothy permalink
    March 22, 2008 6:42 pm

    It’s rather sad for me to relate that I know a teacher who says her Primary 1 class can’t use an IWB because their arms are too short!…despite the fact that the nursery children in the same school are managing to use them in everyone else’s classrooms because they haven’t got one of their own.

    I completely agree that teachers like these need to be “converted”. They do have very valuable skills gained through experience, that should be harnessed by combining them with new stuff but I think that can only happen in small steps. Faced with something “difficult” – ie technology – they merely bury their heads in the sand.

    Glow will only succeed if it offers teachers like these a way to meet a need they realise they have, in a way that doesn’t threaten their self-image as successful teachers.

    Dorothy

  13. March 22, 2008 8:49 pm

    @Dorothy: I’m over 6 foot, and had to get a podium so I could reach the top of the Smartboard in my classroom! Tell your pal she has my sympathy!

    More seriously, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The ‘technophobe’ teachers are a superb resource, but it would be a shame if we weren’t able to preserve some of their knowledge and skills before they leave. The connected teacher will be able to contribute long after the un-connected teacher has retired… I sense a possible post out of this!

    Cheers…

    @Terry: Thanks for the link! Really interesting that you should be talking about online materials and how they aren’t mentioned… I sometimes wonder how much access there actually is to online resources… Site visits we can monitor, but actual classroom use is another matter.

  14. September 22, 2008 9:42 pm

    I work in Maine, US, and for us the age divide is less clear. We get new teachers who lack technology skills, and some of our most creative technology using teachers have 20+ years in. Of course, we want to have those unique situations where teachers go beyond the normal expectations. Our system, however, has some pretty strong rewards for practice that avoids risk and delivers success on exams and grades. So one of the questions becomes, what is the minimum level at which a teacher should practice project-based learning, have knowledge of semantic web technologies, etc.? In other words, what constitutes malpractice? If a doctor shies away from technology or doesn’t keep up, he’s judged harshly for that. Teachers can still bear techno-ignorance as a badge of honor. What does the leadership need to do, specifically, to change that?

  15. September 22, 2008 10:00 pm

    @Joe: I like that analogy with medicine! Unfortunately, it is often the ‘leadership’ that need to change in order to allow change to happen elsewhere.

    Small steps… 😉 and thanks for commenting!

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