Professional Crossroads and Identity Crises: Finding My Tribe

First published on the ITTE website 09/05/2019

I skim-read a random post on Facebook recently that said something along the lines of, if you want to know who you are, look around at your friends – you are the average of your five closest friends. Any switched-on practitioner with a bit of research savvy is going to look at that and make a noise like ‘pfft’ and keep scrolling. Think back to the misuse of Dale’s Cone, or any of the educational neuromyths that continue to maintain a hold in CPD sessions and you get the sense of how I responded to that. However, in several recent discussions, I have come to realise that there may be a grain of truth in this in relation to the professional identity of those of us whose work in education involves technology.

I can remember back in the late 90s trying to explain to my grandmother what a PGCE in IT was. She was very pleased that I was training to be a teacher, but had no concept of IT. The best I came up with was that I taught people how to use computers. Woefully inadequate, but strangely indicative of the identity crisis that has haunted the profession all this time, and never more so than the last five years.

Photo Credit

IT became ICT 1999 into 2000. The beginning teachers on my PGCE course joked that as we would graduate with PGCEs in Information Technology, we were not qualified to teach the new subject “ICT”. Shift forwards to the infamous 2012disapplication of ICT speech at BETT, followed by the 2014 curriculum change and there were some very wobbly moments as in-service ICT teachers faced the challenge of upskilling to teach Computer Science. This is an issue close to my heart and formed the core of my own doctoral research, where I looked at teachers’ perceptions of this change and how they were responding in terms of their teaching.

I stepped out of school to study for my doctorate in 2014, and so, no longer technically a teacher, let alone an IT, ICT, Computing or Computer Science teacher, I came adrift from my former Personal Learning Network, not that we really called it that in years gone by. Studying and working in educational research, I encountered a whole new tribe of teachers-who-research. At WIPCSE 2015 I metCraig Jenkins and spoke to him about a presentation he had given at ITTE2015and from there, I joined ITTE, gave my first Pecha Kucha at ITTE2016 and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since!

ITTE is the association behind the respected Technology, Pedagogy and Educationjournal, and I feel a real sense of professional kinship with this group of teachers, teacher educators, academics and researchers, who recognise the value that each aspect of our identities brings to the work that we do. More importantly, they provide a space and time to come together as a community, welcoming contributions from everyone for whom technology, pedagogy and education are pillars of their practice.

Join us this year on 11th and 12th July in Winchester and be part of the conversation about a richer curriculum and how to create a culture of opportunity in a digital world.

Back to School with EdTech

A post I wrote for the ITTE Blog this month (August 2018)

It’s that time of year when students and teachers prepare to go back to school and start a new academic year. EduTwitter and Facebook groups are full of teachers preparing to start the new academic year with good intentions, new stationery, new classroom displays and new approaches for the coming year.

The DfE announced recently that education secretary Damian Hinds had challenged “the tech industry to launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities to develop innovative teaching and slash workload. Teaching practices and assessment were offered as key opportunities for the tech sector to create a step change. “Virtual trips through the Amazon” were held up as state-of-the art. And yet, I wonder, what are the implications of this search for the next new thing?

Image: CC0 Creative Commons.

Looking back over the years of investment in educational technologies, I recall several technologies that offered new ways to improve teaching and learning, assessment and engagement. Ten or so years ago I recall spending some whole-school ICT budget on voting handsets. A class set that could be calibrated so that individual students could respond to starters, quizzes and discussion prompts built into presentation software, which could then be displayed on an interactive whiteboard and used by a skilful teacher to probe understanding, address misconceptions and scaffold learning. This was surely good teaching supported by educational technology, whether ten years ago or this year.

I recently encountered a similar approach using a mobile phone app during a learning technology demonstration at a university. It reminded me of the class set of handsets and I wondered what had become of it. The whole set, in its carrying bag, is probably in the back of a cupboard somewhere, having not seen the light of day for many a year. But why?

Image: CC0 Creative Commons.  

The answer cannot be a surprise. Technology doubles every two years (Moore’s Law, anyone?). Nothing stays the same in technology, or in education. Curricula rarely stay the same for two years in a row. Once a technology is purchased it is on a countdown to obsolescence and the time and energy that it takes a teacher to develop teaching materials specific to the technology means that it becomes a luxury rather than a necessity. Increasing demands on teacher time mean that the shiny new technology becomes a dusty dinosaur rather quickly.

Perhaps the answer lies, then, in reframing the question, or refocusing the expectation. Good technology, used skilfully by teachers can enhance teaching, learning and assessment. Of that I have no doubt. I also believe that pedagogy should drive technology and not the other way around. What is needed is a step change in education policy that will allow schools and teachers to spend some time investigating the technologies that are needed to support good teaching; time to engage with research, to be confident that the investment is going to be worthy of the effort and lead to the required step change, for the benefit of the students and their learning.

It’s time for a reality check, not just virtual reality.