Flipping things

This week we have two groups appearing on the edu scene to show schools the way to work with technology.

The Year of Code arrived to fairly universal derision, with a Chief Exec who, by her own admission, couldn’t code. It has a group of ‘advisors’ who have a fairly limited number of actual coders (3) and an even more limited number of teachers (0) (see here for a much better summary than you’ll get here). I’m going to pass on making further comment on this group.

Also we have the Educational Technology Action Group (ETAG), about which you’ll find more information here. One of the things it has in common with the Year of Code is the number of teachers involved. Zero. There is a note that it will seek to add current classroom experience to the group. And it is a very experienced and knowledgable group – my OU essays would have been a lot shorter without copious quotes from the work of Professor Laurillard. Many of its members are people who I would go to if I had a specific issue with EdTech.

This group has been set up with the best of intentions. I’m reliably informed by several people I trust that the potential benefits of using technology in education are are well understood at the highest levels of government. “They get it” I’m told. The words I hear bear this out, as do their actions in setting up ETAG.

My only problem is that I think they are going the wrong way about it. IMHO groups such as ETAG will not have the anticipated effect. In fact, I’m prepared to go out on a limb and suggest that other than producing a well-researched, coherent, relevant report and newspaper headlines along the lines of “report shows schools failing to use technology properly”, it will have little specific impact in the classroom. This is not because of any deficiency in the group, but in continued mistaken belief that you can set up a top-down working group, write  a report, change few regulations (that probably no-one actually adheres to anyway) and consequently change behaviours in 30,000 schools.

SPOILER: It’s been tried before and it doesn’t work.

For what its worth, here is how I would have done it.

It is not difficult to find a large number of experienced teachers, both primary and secondary, who are also well versed in the use of technology in the classroom. There are many, many brilliant practitioners out there. If you are stuck, check out my timeline for a day or two. My starting point would have been those teachers and the schools they work in. They know what works in the classroom, they know what their schools have had to do in order to make it work. More importantly, they know what the technology is capable of doing if even more of the barriers are removed.

Give this group the means to communicate and collaborate. Or give them a small amount of cash to build something a little bit more sophisticated than a Google doc. Maybe DfE/BIS between them could spring for a Ning. Give them access to relevant civil servants. By empowering them give them access to industry experts. On their terms, not those of industry.

Of course, there will be times when such a group would need the input of other experts, perhaps even some of those involved in the Year of Code or members of ETAG. Well, at that stage then they would be able to call on them for help. And I am sure that the help would be forthcoming.

This approach would, in my view, be much more focused on what will actually work in schools. It would build on already existing good practice, and it would up skill those teachers involved.

It will be argued, I suppose, that a teacher group might not have the clout to enable any changes required to make their suggestions work. Well, surely that’s the job of politicians. Politicians have empowered the Year of Code and ETAG. Seems to be a fairly small change to make to say, “Actually guys, we got is wrong. We’ve decided to put the teachers in charge. And they will be grateful for your input as and when they decide to ask for it.”

There is another way to do this, of course. Don’t wait to be asked. All those teachers out there. Get yourselves together, write your own report and make that the way forward. If that happens I’m sure that you’ll get a hearing.


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