Twitter CAN replace professional development

twitter-bird-calloutI was sat this morning looking through twitter when I came across a comment and blog discussing how Twitter could not replace Professional development (http://readingbyexample.com/2013/09/25/twitter-for-pd-yes-twitter-to-replace-pd-not-so-much/).   As such I thought I would add my views to the discussion, deciding that 160 characters would be insufficient to clearly articulate my thoughts, hence my views are expressed here.

Professional Development

I think a key issue in the discussion of professional development and where twitter may or may not be involved, is what people perceive as professional development.   Matt’s post suggested the importance of collective instructional capacities and of what I will call traditional professional development in their development within a group.   This traditional professional development was deemed as not possible via Twitter.    Now I can see the point here in that a professional development programme may allow a group of staff within a school to receive the same information plus to discuss and agree on actions to be taken, however its usefulness relies on professional development being driven by the professionals themselves; the teachers.   In my experience a lot of professional development is driven by government, educational authorities or school leaders who believe they know what teachers need.   As such it can be inappropriate in terms of meeting teacher’s needs, too generic in terms of policy or just a total waste of time.

I also have an issue with the title of professional development.   The idea of development suggests that teachers are in some way underdeveloped or lacking in an area which requires development.    I much prefer the concept of professional learning, in that, as professionals we are always learning and trying to build on and improve our classroom practices.

But what about Twitter?

Twitter provides teacher access to a wealth of ideas and resources from teachers across the world.   It allows teachers to develop professional learning networks which are wide and varied, much beyond what is normally accomplished within professional development sessions.   Yes, this may mean individual teachers pick up different ideas and techniques however individual teachers are individual after all.   Each teacher has their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of their teaching as well as their own preferences and style.   A perfect example of this was a recent blog article which was critical of the use of De Bono’s thinking hats (http://www.learningspy.co.uk/myths/six-silly-hats-ok-mock-stuff-think-daft/.   The blog met with a number of comments from defenders of De Bono, who stated how they found De Bono useful while others argued that De Bono’s ideas were of no or little value.   This perfectly illustrates how teachers are individuals with their own perceptions of what works.   These perceptions are borne out of what works for them, as opposed to “what works” in impossibly general terms.

That being said, teachers as part of the learning community which is a school, and also as part of the learning community that is their department, subject or faculty, have a responsibility to bring new ideas, techniques and thoughts to their colleagues for discussion.    These discussions lead to the collective adoption of ideas and techniques, or not as the case may be.    It is these opportunities for sharing and discussion that allows twitter to potentially take the place of traditional professional development.

Like anything, twitter relies on its appropriate use.   Where used appropriately it can have a positive impact on helping teachers improve their practice through access to wide and varied professional learning networks.     Traditionally viewed professional development, also where used appropriately, can have a positive impact although it very seldom provides access to same variety of opinions and ideas as presented via twitter.

As such twitter could replace professional development however I say this with one contingency;   that opportunities are provided within schools for ideas gleaned through twitter to be shared, discussed and agreed upon.      Now I hear some of you saying that such opportunities are surely “professional development” opportunities however my perception of professional development sessions involves the delivery of specific topic area, concept or technique.    The opportunities I refer to would have more in common with TeachMeets where the topic and discussion is more open and creative in nature, however that may be for a later discussion.

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BYOD and Personalisation

phoneTechnology has become more and more personalised to the individual user, since the early days when personal computers were introduced.   Back then there was little in the way of personalisation.   Some years later we started seeing users accounts on personal computers, desktop wallpapers and the ability to change icons, however personalisation was still limited.   Now with so many people having their own mobile phone which is personal to them, and not used by others, devices have became personal, and this personalisation has reached out beyond just phones, into the world of the tablet computer and even the humble laptop.     Devices now are configured with the applications you want, laid out in the way you want and set up with your user account details already pre-entered.   But what does this mean for education and schools?

Consider the situation where a teacher shares a resource with students via a blog or a website, or via google drive or some other method.    The student accesses this resource using their browser of choice.    Should they find it useful they automatically bookmark it for later use, or if the relevance is to their studies is very clear they may instantly drop the resource into google drive.   Having done so the student realises that their friend is off ill, so they share the item via google drive with them, sending an email, using their mail client of choice, to their friend to let them know about the lesson and the shared file.   A thought then strikes the student about something similar they have recently read online so they look through their browser history to find the material, before tweeting the URL to the class group so that they too can consider this in their studies.

The above example shows personalisation at work.    The device is the students own device and therefore has the applications they use already setup with the appropriate account details already entered.   As such the student can seamlessly move between applications, sharing, collaborating, researching, creating and more.

As a teacher I find myself doing the same.    I find a useful tweet and I retweet it, and I might email myself the link for later reference.   If it is appropriate to what I am doing or to what my colleagues are doing, I may share it with others via google drive.    If it is an image I may make use of pinterest for sharing or I might include it in a prezi or share it via slideshare.   I move between my chosen applications quickly and easily.

So the question is can we as teachers in the current technological world continue to prevent students from bringing their own devices into the class or should we embrace personalisation and endeavour to reap the benefits which it may present?

ICT in lessons across the school

roadHaving spent some time today in a school discussing various aspects of ICT use in lessons across the school, including school policies, software tools as well as hardware configuration, I found myself presented with a period of quiet thinking time; namely a 1 hour drive home.

As I drove the long, relatively straight and fairly unpopulated road, I sat thinking about my post from yesterday, the day I had spent discussing ICT in schools and also the whole issue of encouraging the use of ICT in lessons across a school. The word “school” in the phrase “ICT use in lessons across the school” stuck in my head and I couldn’t work out why. As such I gave some thought to what it meant I arrived at the fact that it referred to the use of ICT by all teachers in the school. The word “school” was being used as a general term to cover all those involved in teaching.

So all teachers should use ICT, but are teachers not each individual’s with individual skills and experience? Is the job of the teacher not to provide students with the best learning experiences possible, even if that may not involve ICT?

As a teacher said to me, some staff have very basic ICT skills and are not that motivated towards the use of ICT. If they provide high quality learning experiences, should this matter?

This brought me back to the term “school”. It was being used as a general term to mean all teachers as the school is the sum of all teachers efforts, among other things. But what if what “school” should mean, is that across the school there should be SOME evidence of ICT use in lessons? It would then be for school leaders to decide what “Some” means in terms of how often, how many teachers, etc, and this decision could be justified based on knowledge of the staff, equipment available, etc.

We often refer to the need to use ICT in lessons because our students live in a technological world and have been brought up with this level of technology however how often do we consider that some teachers were not brought up in this world, barely engage in the digital world in their daily lives and are not motivated towards it. We don’t consider it fair to drag students back, but have no concerns about pulling ALL teachers forward, despite the fact that there are those that neither have the skills, experience or the motivation.

Encouraging IT use in lessons: A complex task

lab_smallHave been in the process of developing some professional development programmes and resources to help in encouraging and supporting the use of technology in teaching and learning however I have came to realise quite how complex this area of education is.

Consider the factors that might impact of the use of technology within a school:

  • Availability of appropriate hardware and software including internet access and filtering
    • In IT labs or centralised areas
    • In classrooms
    • Student equipment
    • Mobile equipment
    • Availability of appropriate IT support staff
    • Teacher IT skills and IT confidence including motivation
    • Teacher pedagogy with regards using IT in teaching
    • School culture and in particular opportunities to share and discuss ideas for using ICT
    • School IT strategy
    • School vision for IT within teaching and learning
    • School budgets for equipment, time for sharing and professional development

Now I don’t believe these are the only issues.   In addition the issues are not fixed, and change with time plus they are interdependent.   Consider the availability of hardware and software;   The computer hardware ages with time and therefore becomes less usable in classrooms, which in turn leads to a reduction in teacher motivation towards the use of IT.    This reduction in motivation then gathers pace and results in a change in the school culture with regards sharing ideas and discussing IT usage in lessons.

So how do we make sure IT is used effectively in lessons?

I can’t help but think that it is up to every teacher to do the best they can with what they have; Not exactly a new perspective given we hope that teachers do this in respect of all resources at their disposal or not at their disposal as the case may be.

It is up to schools to try and provide everything else to help teachers do the best they can.   Now the key here is how do we know what teachers need.   The answer is, schools need to ask.    Schools need to enter into dialogue with teachers as to what they need and what they want.    This then needs to be aligned with whole school needs, curriculum needs and needs of external bodies including school inspectors, but it should start with the teachers.

Do all teachers in a school need the same thing?   Do the same IT tools work in all subjects, at all times for all teachers?    I would suggest not, plus would suggest that for some teachers, ICT may be an area of weakness, however their teaching may be outstanding.    Now this is not to suggest we shouldn’t use ICT in lessons, but maybe we should look more carefully at those who we wish to use it and what they want and need, as the professionals who are responsible in the classroom for the learning that takes place.    We should also look more at a varied rather than standardised ICT provision across schools, as this is more likely to meet the needs of individual or groups of teachers.

Does anyone work in such a school where a diverse range of ICT resources are provided across different groups and individuals with the school?     Or are we all working with the “schools” ICT equipment?