This post was written in collaboration with Rachel Jones of @rlj1981 on a problem I have often faced.
Ian: The simple question posted in the title, tends to be where I start much of my digital classroom CPD sessions. I ask this not to identify where I can offer sage-like advice to those gathered but rather to show that I too feel uncomfortable with a great majority of the resources out there. I entirely understand when teachers say they lack confidence as I can often lack it too and a lot of the training and solutions I’ve been to over the years can leave a lot to be desired. The self-declared ‘less able’ are then for me the best groups with which to work. They’re honest and open to collaborative ideas from which I can always take away new and interesting ideas as well. The more difficult ones are those I call Tech-Evangelists and Tech-Atheists. They tend to have a, errm, less positive reaction to my simple question.
You will have likely met both of these types of people; one will continually walk around the corridors, iPad in hand, espousing the virtue of Scratch and the effects of the new assessment modelling system on stats without ever exactly showing anyone how they can help colleagues use it or prove how it will increase attainment. The other will be ensconced in front of a neglected and dishevelled interactive whiteboard hoping someone walks past their classroom so they can bemoan how teaching used to be so much simpler without complicated computers whilst forgetting to mention that all of their planning for today came from Google. Both are often very serious looking and not much fun to be around at parties.
I therefore try to ensure that whatever methodology I promote focusses not on the tech but on the way that it can help me develop my own planning, delivery, and assessment strategies. Basically, if it looks useful and might lead to my learners being engaged, then great, I’ll share it with others and critique it alongside them. If it looks a bit suspect, I adopt something I can be more sure will be beneficial to my learners instead. It’s as Rachel said in her recent @huffpostuk article; sharing effective practises always trumps the latest imported technological solutions.
The best place to be then, whether you be SLT or NQT, is to be somewhere where you try not to assume you know nothing about tech and try not to think you might be special by knowing more. Think of tech-ability as you would a language. Your French might be enough as to pass for native or it might only be enough to order a round at the bar. Either way, your knowledge is irrelevant if you cannot pass it onto your learners. See yourself as possessing a level of digital literacy. That way you avoid becoming the Tech-Atheist by asking for best practise examples when you are charged with using new software and hardware and you stay away from being the Tech-Evangelist when you realise that you still need to seek advice on how your colleagues could use it and listen and can respond to their professional queries when they are deploying it.
I have many, many tales of teachers who have fallen into one or the other of these traps but there will always be two who stand out. The first was particularly egregious in his belief that whilst a digital classroom might be alright for an easy subject like art, it wouldn’t work for his classes where real learning had to take place in front of a real blackboard. Make of that as you will. The second was someone who so committed to using tech in every situation that they didn’t factor in that pond dipping + twenty tablet computers = a very awkward conversation with the head.
Rachel: I read this and winced a bit when Ian got to the bit about the types of groups that are good to work with in CPD. I want to be engaged and do good learning, but I do tend to drift off if I think I already know something. Bad me, must try harder. I do however totally agree that the group of people who are easiest to work with in a school are those who admit to having no IT skills, but are willing to learn. It can be extremely gratifying to work with an art teacher who is now using digital portfolios and student podcasting to support their artwork, or a maths teacher who has recently begun using Kahoot and really enjoys how much it engages the learners in his classroom.
Getting to that stage though is no mean feet, and it meant that myself as member of staff supporting those teachers had to abandon (if only temporarily) the mantra that using technology should be about effective cross-subject pedagogy. The real hook for many teachers is what can they use the technology for in their subject. Tempting them in with tasty differentiation titbits is not enough for them to make the use of technology embedded in their practice. Part of me find that a teeny bit frustrating, but part of me understands that teachers are passionate about their subject, and so it is totally reasonable for them to want to see the benefits in their area of specialism.
The tech-Evangelists are a totally different kettle of fish. Staff training with them can feel like being a juggler at a child’s birthday party, they are all kind of waiting for you to drop the balls so that they are assist you and show off their superior skills. Alright, this is a bit of an over generalisation, but it can be awfully predictable when you are delivering training on one software package/website/tool and they are sat, full of suggestions for other tools that ‘do the same thing’ which undermines what you are doing. These are a bit like over keen children in the classroom, the ones who read the entire book that you will be studying for a year in the first week of term, and then spend the entire year unhelpfully chipping in. Best way to deal with them is to give them a job to do like supporting the less keen/able and encourage positive contributions.
On the opposite end of the scale we have the tech-Atheists. They *pride* themselves in not being able to work a computer, and seem to get an invisible Brownie point for every time they tell someone that. Let me say this now: you are not going to win all of these ones round. You can win some of them but showing them that using technology can make their lives easier, so for example in sharing files using Google Drive, but you might have prepare yourself that some members of staff will always use their iPad as a very expensive bookmark.
Recognising the things that hold teachers back from using technology is very similar to seeing what limits learners in the classroom. You need to be able to successfully differentiate so that they see the benefits of investing time and effort into learning something new. Digital literacy is not simply something that needs to be taught to children, it is also part of the core skills that teachers need to have to be able to advance their uses of technology and see the purposes for doing so. Any teachers interested in discussing these topics further are welcome to talk to Ian or Rachel.