Is face to face training for teachers dead?

July 25, 2011

Good staff development is a common factor amongst outstanding secondary schools (Tim Brighouse TES 04/10). John Hattie’s metastudies point to teacher quality as being the most important factor in raising achievement. Dylan William, Emeritus Professor of education at the IoE, regularly emphasises the importance of improving the teachers already in the profession as well as those entering it. CPD is clearly very, very important, and in an ideal world good staff development would be happening all the time.

We inhabit a far-from-ideal world, however. The budgetary pressures are hitting the face-to-face training hard; courses are often £250 and upwards. Add to this the cost of covering an absent teacher (at least £120 per day) and the pressures on other staff because of the ‘rarely cover’ directive and the sums start to look worrying. Teachers are also pretty reluctant to leave the GCSE or A-Level class they’ve been teaching in the hands of a ‘babysitter’ because, as anyone who has experienced this knows, there’ll be precious little progress in that classroom… unless you’re lucky enough to have extraordinary cover supervisors or subbing teachers.

There is a great tension in school CPD with teachers tugged each way in the middle. In my experience as a teacher, trainer and coach, teachers are very grateful for development opportunities and will endeavour to make the most of what they learn. Even with the greatest intentions, however, the impact in the rest of the school is limited to ‘cascade training’ or a mention in a departmental meeting. Cascade training is simply a false economy – no-one can train others on subject matter they themselves have only just been through with anything approaching the same level of knowledge, understanding or objectivity. If they try to do so it takes valuable directed time and, to a certain degree, wastes it.

So, what to do?

Growth in eLearning across the commercial sector has undoubtedly been driven by financial considerations. No travel, no room, hire, reduced impact on productivity because of absence and a tutor who can build a course then move on to the next, instead of getting tied up delivering the same one time and time again. Managers can track, at the very least, who has signed-in to the course (can anyone track whose eyes were facing the trainer at a F2F training event?), and with a little more forethought can collect assessment data that tells them what people have gained from in. Staff can fit the course in around their day, and even continue study on the bus / train / patio. There are numerous benefits.

So why isn’t everyone elearning?

Take your pick from the often quoted evaluations of elearning course enrollees:

  • it’s boring,
  • hard-to-follow,
  • lacks discourse,
  • requires a certain level of computer competency, even when the subject has nothing to do with technology,

the list goes on…

This isn’t all elearning, and it isn’t how online learning has to be. The world of elearning has paid much more attention to course design, visual and multimedia communication, smart assessment, the psychology of learning, and even learning theory such as constructivism than large swathes of the time-pressed (and under-developed) teaching profession get a chance to do.

Good elearning is social, focussed, flexible, personalised, and is more effective than classroom teaching.

The time is ripe for elearning to enter schools in a big way. There is an increased emphasis on teachers teaching teachers, and if their practice can be captured, built-upon using the findings of peer-reviewed research, and turned into effective and affordable elearning then the school system can be helped to improve itself.

Now, who could possibly know enough about elearning and education to pull this off…?

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July 25, 2011

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Don’t foxes eat hedgehogs?

February 20, 2010

It appears that we are becoming less like hedgehogs and more like foxes; associative knowledge (i.e. hyperlinks) is making us less likely to read books and more likely to skip across topics.

The experts interviewed on Virtual Revolution on the Beeb seemed to think this is a bad thing. Wherever I look online, and in the communities of progressive educators who wish to embrace the technologies that young people use habitually, it is touted as a good thing; access information quickly; process not content etc.

Who is right? Can it be boiled down to something that is wrong or right? Are the legions of future-thinking teachers actually deceiving themselves and pandering to the inherent laziness of the brain which the world wide web allows? Or are there too many people with too much fear of change to accept that new can be better? Time will tell, but by then it might be too late to take that step back and decide we’ve gone too far.

iPhone – a different matter entirely

February 19, 2010

Thanks to the folks at O2, I’ve been handed an iPhone to play with. The main purpose of this was to investigate whether they could be used to support the use of Bright Sparks, the rather nifty competency portfolio software from Life Beyond School.

I know everyone’s got one and they love to play with it. I know lots of teachers with an iPhone and they have as many pointless apps as the next person.

What impressed me, however, was the ease of use of this device – pick it up, ignore the manual, and get on the web in a few seconds. Plug it into iTunes and configure it just as quickly.

And, crucially, within ten minutes I’d downloaded the MobiCip browser, disabled iTunes store and app store, as well as Safari browser. In my hand was a locked down device, safe for use by kids (MobiCip looks after blacklisting and heuristic blocking, with different settings available for different age groups).

To put the cherry on the cake – it turns out that an unlimited number of iPhones can be administered from one iTunes installation – making purchasing of apps cheaper (one app for the full set of phones) as well as streamlining device management.

And the other benefits? Within another 10 minutes I’d downloaded and installed a range of free apps and tasters covering brain-training, periodic tables, cells, augmented reality (still wrestling with that one). I’d synced Facebook and email, as well as Twitter, and had the world in my hands.

None of this will be news to some of you, but we’ve been looking into iPhone use for quite some time and had serious doubts as to e-safety issues. Having challenged two different colleagues to find porn using the MobiCip browser (the best work-task they got that day) and seeing them both fail miserable, I’m pretty confident that these beasts can be released into the wild – even in the hands of some pretty wild beasts.

The final word – well, as usual, it’s down to the cost. £10 can give you a year’s browsing (in fact £1, if you’re prepared to use up £9 worth of call credit). The real barrier is the £400 for the phone. Maybe if i order 20…

Scepticism – I feel at home there (sorry Apple)

December 4, 2009

“About time”, sighed a relieved world. “We were terrified you were never going to write a blog”.

Well, sorry world citizens. I have been, till now, quite confident that you can survive without reading my opinions in anything longer than 140 characters. I’m pretty certain that, should no-one read these posts, life will continue pretty much as normal.

Anyway, enough false modesty. The topic of my first post is Apple’s push into the burgeoning handheld education market.

It can’t be denied that, when it comes to desirable, boundary-expanding consumer gadgets, Apple are hard to compete with. It seems that their domination is so complete that no-one really tries hard to barge into market sectors in which Apple are already established. Well done Mr Jobs et al, your iPod Touch and iPhones are truly beautiful machines, and humanity has taken a step forward with their inception.

My concern is not with the free men and women who spend their hard earned cash on the mobile device of their choice, but rather with the spending of public money on technology that, possibly, just isn’t suitable.

I should explain. iMacs are great computers. They can be networked and accounts managed so that control of users actions is simple (and we all know that, when it comes down to it, that’s the top of the issue list for most school management teams). They have wonderful creative software and the interface is soooooo much more natural and easy to grasp than poor old PC. Spend-away, schools; everyone loves an iMac and rightly so.

iPod Touches are, as stated, wonderful consumer devices. But when I hear that a college has invested in an iPod and server solution and pinned all hopes on this curing it’s many reported ills, this is when the fear starts to rise.

The solution, as sold to the college by Apple, sounds promising. Podcast technology, coupled with straight-forward editing software and media-capture devices, pushes content to students iTouches (350 bought by the college) for them to access as and when. Teaching staff can easily film themselves demonstrating vocational skills, or can assemble informative multimedia QuickTime videos from stills, text and video. Students get new media ‘textbooks’ forced into their pockets as soon as they walk into the WiFi zone. Once more, Apple’s ability to create a streamlined and simple solution must be applauded.

But what’s new about this approach? While students have a choice about when they access the content they don’t easily get to choose whether they receive it as part of their course. Picture the traditional teacher handing out the numbered textbooks at the start of the year, listing names and threatening fines for any damage, only to collect them at the end unused apart from a few graffitied scribbles and some trick instructions to ‘turn to page 69′. But this isn’t my biggest gripe.

Having a video in your pocket does not mean that the learners are going to participate more constructively in the lessons (which they still attend  – there is no noticable change in course delivery methodology). In fact it neuters the capability of the teacher to engage them with something new; they’ve already seen it! But this isn’t my real grumble.

What really annoys me is that the creation of this content, using these cheap but powerful hand-held devices (Flip Minos, to be exact) all takes place in the hands of the teaching staff who then deliver (a term I hoped was on the wane) it to the learners. If a learner wants to create and share, they have to send it through a teacher who then may or may not publish it. And why is this content creation so one-sided? Because the college spent all it’s money on devices with no camera and no microphone, and a ‘push’ technology that is one-way.

Content is cheap. Teachers’ time isn’t. When are they going to create all this content? After three weeks of enthusiasm, the answer is they aren’t.

While I have never seen any actual evidence for the percentages often quoted:

You remember approximately 10 percent of what you read.
You remember approximately 20 percent of what you hear.
You remember approximately 30 percent of what you see.
You remember approximately 50 percent of what you hear and see together.
You remember approximately 70 percent of what you say.
You remember approximately 90 percent of what you do.

I am pretty certain that you learn more by doing than by seeing, reading, hearing or any other passive process.

So, to summarise this rant, MoleNet, BSF and other capital investment programs will be wasted if decision makers don’t seperate appreciate the difference between leisure devices and meaningful teaching / learning tools, and start thinking about the pedagogy (I knew that word would find a way in) that they want to move towards – the ‘wow’ factor of holding a nifty gadget is not enough to maintain quality learning activities.


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