Sunday, October 28, 2012

Looking over the fence

Looking Over The Fence by born1945, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  born1945

I read so many articles and reports on issues around the integration of technology in education and nearly every one singles out professional development for teachers (or the lack of it) as the key issue. It's not enough to just hope that teachers keep up to date with the latest pedagogical theories and the latest trends in educational technology. This has been the general policy for many years and the result is a widening digital gap between teachers who are already using technology in innovative ways and those who simply haven't even investigated the qyestion at all. It's not enough either to offer the occasional training day in the hope of inspiring action. There needs to be a coherent strategy for professional development for all teachers to ensure that they are all able to take advantage of new methods and tools in a pedagogical way.

This is the theme of an excellent post by Tom WhitbyHow do educators get to know what they don’t know?. He remarks that professional development (PD) needs to be radically rethought, needs investment and needs support. It must be seen as simply an integral part of the job and time must be allotted for discovery, testing, collaboration and discussion. Teachers need time to look over the fence at what's going on outside the classroom.

"We need to change PD. It must be part of an educator’s work week, and that includes administrators. We need educators to connect with other educators to collaborate and maintain relevance. Educators need to explore their needs and address them with solutions of their choosing after exploring the options. Faculty meetings can address procedures in shared documents with educators, while using the time in meetings to discuss pedagogy, methodology, best practices and new ideas. Educators need to be supported in trying new endeavors. When we address PD as evolving and continuous, and not as a teacher workshop day, we will begin to bring relevance back to education. Schools that do this now will be the first to tell us this. Of course, we need to connect with them for that to happen. Connecting educators is a first step."

It is of course important that technology meets the needs of teachers. But needs are generally based on past practices and if a teacher is happy using tried and tested methods then there are no needs that technology can meet. However there are often new opportunities available to enhance teaching and learning that the individual teacher has not even dreamt of. If we simply based all development on meeting present needs we would never have invented television, cars, computers, mobiles etc etc. No-one actually needed those things. We were all perfectly happy with horses, radio, landline phones and so on.

We need to develop a learning environment at work where people are encouraged to look over the fence and see what is happening in the world outside. New technologies and methods should be met with curiosity instead of being dismissed offhand. "What if ..." instead of "Yes but ...". Words like curiosity, innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity are often used in schools' and universities' glossy strategy documents but the hard part is creating a climate for such qualities.

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