Ed tech – all or nothing?

Does the Technology in Education have to be such a polarising debate?

Is it really a case of all tech or no tech?

The debate has continued in earnest this week – with Apple’s Tim Cook weighing in with the sound bite ‘Classroom Tech not a Substitute for Teaching‘. This secret teacher  also seems to suggest that once SLT has decided it wifi became ubiquitous along with access as and when the children needed it. Unhelpful headlines and typical of th debate (regardless of the measured context that the schools are working in) It seems that for some there are no half measures.

This type of situation is unhelpful and surely not that realistic? Beyond emails – and updating online spaces (or providing material to update) – what else can we gain from forcing teacher to use technology or arguing that technology will replace teachers.

Fashion and Fad

Of course this isn’t helped by rumour and random news stories. The most recent being that Year 1 will be subject to a PISA style test which will be online. A few years ago a discussed times table test was rumoured to be online only. These ideas are just that, headlines designed as clickbait, however they point to a key problem. Technology in the classroom is seen as divisive. It is seen as a have-all or have-nothing and it is very much subject to the other whims of education debate. Taken into context then it makes no sense to have such an absolute vision. We don’t talk about assessment in such terms, or behaviour policies. Both of these examples are subject to the ideas and beliefs of the school and so should technology use.

Losses and Gains

Let’s face it – the breathless predictions of what teaching can get from technology comes from the providers themselves. Nothing more than free advertising using their user base as a megaphone. Change, of any sort, takes time in huge institutitions such as education and yet we are seeing it anyhow.

We have seen how technology has made administrative tasks much easier;  how whole school communication is made easier and  staying in touch with other stakeholders easier. How pupils can create and publish their work with ease. Now we know that there are pros and cons for any tools – (let’s not start on the email inbox!) but nothing seem to raise the hackles quite like the use of technology. We talk about the debate in absolutes –  around schools who are ‘all ipad’ rather than those who use it as and when it can support their pupil. We talk of ‘paperless’ rather than looking at the savings made via the use of email. Replacing teachers rather than supporting teachers. Automating and boring rather than creative and engaging.

The Future

Then there is the talk about the future – how the promised change that technology was to bring hasn’t happened. Apart from the fact that many of these promises are nothing more than advertisements we need to remember that this is about context. Every school will have their own story – success or otherwise. For every school that has found technology to be nothing more than an expensive distraction there will be a school that has benefited greatly. Finding the good news stories can be a little tougher because they don’t generate the same kind of headlines – but they are there. We just need to think about the wider picture. Consider the online networks of teachers supporting one another – or the blogging community. Think about Skype and how that has welcomed experts into the classroom – shared experiences across the globe. Think about pupils sharing their writing with other schools, instantly, with other authors or with their friends and families.

None of these examples require the absolute and only use of technology, but they wouldn’t be possible without it.

Training our teachers

 

#weeklyblogchallenge17

I had a conversation with a long serving Head Teacher once where they exclaimed that they ‘never’ had student teachers in their school because ‘why would you have someone teaching your pupils who you haven’t employed’. After much discussion I had convinced, myself at least, that supporting teachers in training was a vital part of the work that schools do – at least in part – and that, also, Universities had a big part to play in that a well.

It comes as no surprise, of course, that there is much disagreement over the Initial Teacher Training programme. The universities and their hold on them have been much fragmented over the last five years and we now have an almost bewildering array of ways in which one can get into teaching.  And all underpinned by the Teaching Standards which I am sure we all know like the back of our hands….

Rather than waste a post arguing about the politics behind funding and provision I thought I’d be a bit more positive and explore three things initial teacher training could improve on, from my perspective… Purely practical stuff, obviously..

  • A variety of schools / settings – geographically too!

Loosely linked to the idea of ensuring exposure to a wide variety of teaching styles and teachers (and pupils, of course!). I am astounded at the idea that one school, or maybe two schools can provide a good enough grounding. Teachers should move schools and trainee teachers should see vastly different settings. Teacher’s moving schools is a different blog post..

  • There needs to be a reading list – with different theories…

Yup – and not one where everyone reads an article then discusses it, an actual reading list. One which will challenge, not just reinforce common thinking. Here course leaders need to challenge themselve I’m afraid… keep up to date and offer journals as part of recommendations.

  • True partnership with the schools – does it work?

This works for university as well as SCITT based programmes. Perhaps one school is truly entrenched and supported, but more often than not the course provider makes no attempt whatsoever to check the (second?) school they are being placed in. Find out what makes that school unique, or how the behaviour policy is different. I know, every student carries out an ‘observation week’ – but should providers not support here too? Perhaps offer some national context to what they are seeing? Too often policies are ‘collected’ and then nothing… radio silence… come in for observation week!

Of course I know that every place is slightly different, ever course as a slightly different push on something – but we owe it to the next generation of teachers to get this right.

 

Incidentally the Head that prompted these thoughts now has student teachers in…

On collaboration….

It’s funny, this is the second week in a row that I had thought about my #weeklyblogchallenge17 only to have it changed at the last minute because of a conversation. This time I’m going to talk about how important it is to collaborate – to work together. Now, I have mentioned this before in the context of the classroom (see this post) – however current affairs, and the ubiquitous nature of social media means that I think it is even more important now to consider what can be done to improve our collaboration (system wide, and more personally).

System Challenge

At a meeting last week a colleague bemoaned the lack of training that was offered by the Local Authority for the new assessment structures and expectations. This (which could be the subject of  whole different blog) did not surprise me – as far as I knew I never expected anything from the LA. I had never known them offer much in the way of training. But yet the expectation was still there. The alternative of course, is that we organise ourselves. Challenge and confront one another with the aim of school wide, and therefore, system improvement.

And of course there are many school-wide improvements that can be supported with collaboration. Organising training; supporting staff members; developing cross school coaching models – many things that were once the way of the LA will now be supported by school collaborating with on another.

For some, this will mean a shift in thinking. Schools in areas may feel as though they are in competition with one another – old stories or old competitions may mean that trust has been lost.

Support

This for me is a key point of collaboration – and one which has become even more important in these last few years. Collaboration can share ideas, can sow the seeds for creativity and can ensure that mistakes are spotted and corrected. It can also offer a different side, can share a different opinion and can help a school leader find a different way.

Mutual support and searching for solutions is a one way that collaboration can be supportive. I’m all for more collaboration – so, what’s stopping us?

 

 

 

Being a Head Teacher

One great thing about the #weeklyblogchallenge17 is that throughout the week I am attempting to read other posts in an effort to reflect on what my post might be about. Now I had something ready to go this weekend – but a couple of events over the last few days have instead prompted a new post. Which is great – because like last week it should mean it is more relevant. Therefore more interesting…

The events have been the retiring / resigning of various head teachers. Both local and national. This has prompted a lot of conversations on twitter, and in person,  about the reasons for these losses, and of course questioning whether we have an impending leadership crisis…

Make no mistake; they are losses. It matters how we treat our teachers and it matters how we treat our head teachers. Many years of experience, and so resources, have gone in to these careers. Someone asked me on twitter why I thought head teachers were leaving and I suggested that the reasons are many, complicated and individual. Here I will take a closer look at these thoughts:

It is a job played out in public; those who are close to retirement or who suffer in public don’t want to stay there. Indeed the constant questioning of decisions made by a head teacher is something that many find incredibly wearing, regardless of, and indeed sometimes because of, the fact that those decisions are made by a governing body. Local papers, national news and social media rarely record the role of the governing body.

It is an isolated role – often other parties can disclose information as they see fit, and are protected knowing that the school cannot answer. It most definitely cannot answer the concerns of individual cases. Instead they are left to ‘lofty silence’ or a generic, and often weak sounding ‘quote’.

Competition is also the death knell of many careers. The fact remains that many (not all) teachers are not interested in running a business. Much less one where your only colleagues and confidantes are actively trying to take your source of income. In areas where pupil numbers are droppping this has resulted in schools simply stopping collaborating. In a political climate where social services, mental health services and th NHS are slowly shrinking, schools drawing themselves within is not a good idea. And it means that the most vulnerable will suffer.

Those who I have spoken to suggest they are choosing to retire because the future look bleaker than ever, some suggest other careers entirely. The question then becomes about the support for those just beginning, or those contemplating. My original idea for this post comes in here – the Chartered College . Can it do this? That, I’ll leave on the back burner for a while yet…

Don’t believe everything…

  • 3rd post in the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17

When worlds collide…

Two things happened this week which suprised me. Number one was the earnest decleration from a pupil that President-Elect Donald Trump used to be an American Wrestler and therefore will be an excellent President (feel free to google) and then a come back from another pupil earnestly declaring that he can’t be a good President because he was so rude to the journalist (at the press conference this week).

Now, both these pupils are upper KS2 and both are pretty tech savvy. The interesting thing here, for me, is how our children are taking in their news and how they choose to filter it. I don’t want to turn this into a lecture about how we need to teach children to filter news, and recognise bias (I have written about this before) – but news, bias and indeed fake news is growing faster than ever before. I don’t remember the children ever being this interested in current affairs – it is indeed true that the world is becoming smaller. And because our children are starting from the familiar to them, they are connecting world events directly to themselves.  There natural channel is You Tube – they start from an online presence and then go from there. Trump being a WWE wrestler was a story in that child’s world – and then immediately put a new spin on what was formerly an ‘adult thing’ – From there who knows where they to to… (let’s not consider the language they may have seen…)

I’ve also had children tell me that Obama isn’t American, that everyone hated Thatcher, and well, don’t get me started on the issues that came up with the European Referendum. What is our role when children ask us about these things they have read? Often they have no shades of grey in these issues and us, in an effort to simplify, we often mislead. Looking at theses issues in detail can take too much time in school. It needs to be considered with parents, with Digital Literacy lessons and alongside other curriculum content so as to put it into context (propaganda then and now… for example).

 

A challenge, and one not unique to the age, but arguably much harder now than ever.

 

Could Alexa work for you?

Second blog for #WeeklyBlogChallenge17

Like many great ideas this blog was born of a comment on twitter by @pepsmccrea

I have a fascination with AI – albeit the kind of HAL AI – but still… Having yet to try Alexa at home, but surrounded by Bluetooth enabled devices and the internet I can’t wait to give it a go. In the meantime I’ve given myself some time to consider uses for this tech in schools.

It is worth mentioning first of all, that there will always be issues of privacy with an always on internet device in schools. This is something that will need to be seriously thought about, I’ve looked into it and I am unclear as to what exactly happens with the voice commands that are sent to the cloud. But – let’s imagine right now that the device is on or off – that it learns, but doesn’t save all recordings for years… (the ethic of this could be another post!) Also, learning from other voices would need to be in there.




Knowledge
Instantly you can see how children merely asking questions and receiving answers, facts and things may not be such a good idea… Alexa would need to have a kind of Socratic approach to answering. It cannnot be simply a high powered calculator. Ask Alexa should not just be the last thing on our ‘if you are stuck…’ list. No, Alexa will need to be a bit smarter – to learn to respond with pointers, hints and other ideas that the children could try first. Saying that however, there is much to be said for an oral account of eye-witness accounts from history, or a different explanation of fractions and decimals. Children will need to learn to listen carefully, and of course, to formualate their questions appropriately.

Integration
Some of the above issues could be solved by textbook/curricula providers having Alexa linked modules. This would mean that the children could actually say, ‘Alexa I’m stuck with Chapter two’ or ‘Alexa what does so and so mean in Question 3’. Linked with a smart board (or projector) and it could show videos or other resources. I’m imagining a virtual science experiment whereby videos from a service such as the BBC Schools, or Expresso might be genuinely useful. Google classroom links are obvious here – as this could also lead to children identifying themselves by username and getting personalised content. Again, I realise the technology is not quite there yet – but it is within reach.

Personalised Learning
This is the area that really makes me think we could see a game changer. I already find iPad apps and google classroom brilliant for SEN. An AI enabled device would be able to offer more resources and more ideas for children as mentioned above. Recording the initial teacher input, or reading aloud chapter from books. But also the formulating of questions, the dictation of ideas and the organising of their thoughts could be vitally supported by an AI enabled device. ‘Alexa record this…’ ‘Alexa read back what I just said’ A device which connected to a visualiser could, maybe, learn to read handwriting or support the child in editing. Or upload the images to google classroom and ping the teacher – link to an iPad and you have the pupil recording their words and then sharing with other apps. Again specific apps and providers could link with Alexa.

Admin
This is the most obvious area where teachers could be supported. Send to printer command; take the register; share school messages; share school calendar; check emails; read aloud lunch menus… If you use an electronic assistant at home you will realise how it could support your classroom. This is where most privacy issues will come in – you couldn’t really ask it to read aloud school emails if it then saves all the information on a server. Your school calendar probably shouldn’t be that detailed. But then… emails are similarly saved, and many schools already use google calendar or a similar device. One to think about definitely…

Realism

Again, I know there are many hurdles to this, I know that the internet connection will need to be faster than most schools currently access. There will be privacy issues, and parental worries. We will need to ensure strong, unbreakable firewalls. Other educational companies will need to get on board to make it genuinely useful…

But I think this is worth investigating – and if anyone wants to donate a few so I can get started….

Links

CNet Review

Donald Clark Blog – ideas and more link