Teaching Internationally

Back in April @teachertoolkit posted with regards teacher stress levels in the UK making mention of the number of staff in the UK who are now considering teaching internationally rather than remaining in the UK.    He also made reference to the fact that teaching internationally is not stress free however the demands and therefore causes of stress may be different.  You can read his full post here.

Having been involved in education within the UK and then within the middle east for the past seven years I thought I might share my viewpoint with regards this.

Firstly let me outline some of the causes of stress which I have experienced which differ from my experiences teaching with the UK.   Firstly language can be a difficulty in that both students and parents of some students may have limited abilities in English and I am afraid that even after my seven years year my understanding of Arabic is still at a basic level at best.    My inability to pick up more than basic Arabic is one regret I have from my experience here in the UAE.   Now I know that there are schools in the UK where significant numbers of students are second language learners of English however I have had limited exposure to such schools.

A second issue can be expectations of parents.   Within the UAE the expectations are that students should achieve very high grades, with 90% to 100% scores being common in some schools.   This has been the way that the education system has worked in the past with students getting marks just for attending, homework, etc leading to overall high grades.    As such teachers assessing students as not reaching these standards and therefore providing them lower grades may come in for unhappy feedback from parents and also from school leaders eager to please parents.

Within the UAE there a significant number of private schools and it is within these that most UK based teachers will find themselves although some may enter into public education schools such as those in Abu Dhabi.   Within private schools a key factor is one of finances with some school owners being more eager than others to make profit from their school.   As such teachers may have variable access to resources plus variable expectations in terms of their workload dependent on the owners of the school within which they work.

Further to finance, the fees levels within UAE schools cover a wide range of fees with high performing schools or widely recognised school brands being able to command higher fee levels.  These fee levels often translate to higher staff wages in a bid to recruit a higher calibre of staff however with these higher wages come significant higher expectations of teachers, in line with or in some cases exceeding expectations in the UK.   Where staff do not meet the expectations they can expect their initial contact not to be renewed.    This contract renewal which usually occurs every two years can be a significant stress where a teacher has relocated with their full family and where not being renewed would require the finding of a new job plus potentially the relocation of the full family.

Contact renewals or the lack of renewal also has a secondary impact in that it can mean that staff turnover in some schools can be quite high.   This frequent change of staff can cause significant stress.    This can be even more evident where the turnover relates to school leaders as this can result in a variety of initiatives being instigated under one leader who does not have their contract renewed followed by a new set of initiatives being implemented under the next leader.

In conclusion on the causes of stress I would suggest that teaching is a stressful job at times no matter where you undertake it with competing requirements of governments, inspection regimes, school owners, school leaders, parents, local community, students, etc.   I do not believe that teaching internationally offers any real reduction in causes of the stress, it is only that the causes are different than those that exist within the UK.

desert_small2 desert_small  pool_small

The key thing however, in my belief, is the lifestyle.    In the UAE I found myself driving to work admiring the scenery as the sun comes up over the desert.   The view can only be described as breath taking.   This is in stark contract to driving through the cold, winter dark, wet weather in the UK.    At the weekend, in the UAE winter, I found myself sat in the sun by the pool.   Not something you could do in the UK sadly.    The UAE is also ultra safe so I could be out with my family and our youngest who is now 9 without concerns for who he might be talking to or for his safety.   I can walk around in the centre of town at night without ever having to worry about who might be behind me.    This additional piece of mind seems like a minor issue however it helps to balance out the stress and make it bearable.    There are also plenty of things to do both yourself and with family although some activities can become quite expensive.   You can go on a track day if you are interested in cars and racing, Ferrari world, Al Ain Zoo, pool parties, Wadi Adventure water park, go-karting, sky diving, swimming with dolphins, jet skiing, dune bashing, to name but a few activities.  The availability of warm weather all year round makes these things possible and provides more opportunities than I experienced when teaching in the North West of England.   In the summer months it must be noted, outdoor activities become a little more difficult as the temperature soars up to around 50 degrees.

In summary I would say that working internationally is not for everyone.   It involves different cultures, expectations, norms, etc.   It also involves leaving family, friends and the familiar behind but if you are open minded it can be a great experience, and for me has been.   I may even blog further with regards some of my experiences as a fair few of them have, in hindsight been amusing or on occasions hilarious.    I had hoped for quite some time wanted to continue the experience for some time however I now my find myself back in the UK and to be honest although I enjoyed my years in the Middle East I am glad to be back in the UK!!

IT Support vs. IT Services?

ID-100109206smallI am currently working on changing the current departmental title where I work from IT Support to IT Services as I believe IT Services more accurately fits what I and the staff within the department do.

The main reason behind this change is that I see the staff within the department and the work that we do as integral to what happens within the school.   We provide data services to ensure teachers, school leaders and parents have timely access to information.    We provide the audio visual services used within the classroom everyday in checking, maintaining and replacing classroom data projectors, audio systems and associated computer hardware.    We provide the printing facilities across the school.    We provide and support the WIFI across the school as used by the staff and students which given all students and staff have a mobile device is quite a significant undertaking.

My belief is that the term “service” is more in line with what we do as opposed to “support”.    Now I recently read a post by Anthony DePrato which you can see here.     His post presents a slightly different standpoint in that he expresses a key preference for “support” over the term “service”.    The reasoning for this is explained to be the fact that teaching and learning are critically important and therefore the focus.    The IT facilities and staff are therefore there to help and to support this critical focus as opposed to being a service.   Mr. DePrato raises the concern of the potential reliance that may develop on IT as a service.

My viewpoint differs to that of Mr. DePrato on one key point.   For me teaching and learning is always the critical and key focus of all staff within a school independent of whether they directly teach students or not.   I recently commented when a colleague mentioned HR and Payroll, that they too need to focus on teaching and learning.   If teachers don’t feel supported as employees and adequately paid then their teaching and the learning experiences they provide will most likely be adversely affected.    So for the IT staff working within the school the key thing is to provide services which assist and enhance teaching and learning.

I use “services” as I feel this better describes how “we” as a whole are all “in it together”.    If the school management system doesn’t work then this will adversely impact on Teaching and Learning.   If the display equipment doesn’t work or a teacher cant access online educational resources they wish to use then this will adversely impact on Teaching and Learning.   Teaching and Learning depends both on the teaching in the class and on the IT service available although I will happily concede that the teaching side of things is more important as learning can occur with the technology.    That said I believe the best learning happens where we have the best IT services and the best teaching operating together.   As such teaching staff and IT staff must work together.  It is not about reliance but more about a coexistence and collaboration.   For me the easiest way for this to happen is to see IT as a service in much the same way as water, electricity and heat.   Teachers should expect the service to be there and to meet their needs.    IT staff should seek to ensure that the service is in place and that it continues to meet the evolving needs of teachers plus to resolve any faults or problems promptly where they arise.    IT services involve an ongoing discussion with the users of the service to ensure the service remains current and appropriate to the needs of teachers and their students.

As Mr. DePrato said, this is not Amazon, as Amazon are external and represent a bought in service.   This is more akin to the internal relationship with have with school leaders who we expect to work with teachers and to lead the school.    This is an internal relationship with clear expectations.   Given this I think “service” is more appropriate as a term as opposed to “support”.

In concluding I would suggest that the words don’t matter as much as the culture and climate they seek to promote.   Maybe both myself and Mr. DePrato seek to establish the same culture and climate within IT however due to differing styles approach the same issue with slightly different perceptions and slightly differing styles.

 

 Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1.5Mb! Why would I need more?

Technology continues to have a significant impact on our everyday lives but not only that, as technology advances at an ever quickening pace, so it changes our everyday lives.  During the last week two specific events have caused be to reflect on this.

The first event happened earlier this week when I came across the below tweet:

This got me reflecting on my own journey with computer systems and in particular the storage space and data which I interacted with.    My early life with computer systems involved 5 ¼ inch floppy disks and later the higher capacity 3.5 inch not so floppy variety.   The sum of all the data I could create and consume could be stored on 1.5Mb discs without any problem.    As time went on however it became apparent as my disc collection expanded into the hundreds that I needed a new storage solution to cope with the ever increasing amount of data I was both producing and consuming.   Enter my first proper IBM compatible PC complete with a whopping 500Mb hard drive.   This was the solution to all my problems or so I thought for a while anyway.   It wasn’t long before the 500Mb drive inside my nice new PC had to be provided with a friend to play with, in the shape of a 2nd 500Mb hard drive taking my total storage to the impossible to fill level of 1Gb of storage space.

I won’t bore you with the intervening years so let’s fast forward to the here and now.   My storage requirements these days run into terabytes and let me just say I have a few terabytes worth of data.    Part of this might be that I am a bit of a hoarder including keeping the data, files and other creations which I have developed over the last 10 years of so.   I may even be able to lay my hands on specific emails from 3 jobs and almost 10years ago.    Part of this may be the ever higher quality and complexity of creations and part may also be the increasing speed with which I can generate new digital data or content.     The tools I have at my disposal now allow me to create new content at a far faster rate than I could all those years ago working with 5 ¼ inch floppy discs.

This is the point I want to make here, that our ability to create and consume content is increasing at what must almost be an exponential rate as technology provides us new methods for both producing and creating content, plus to share this content for others to adapt and share again.     This brings us to the second of the events I mentioned at the start of this post.   While reading “The New Digital Network” I came across the below statement:

“Every future generation will be able to produce and consume more information [or content] than the previous one”

Given this it is important that we as teachers are adequately preparing our students to deal with this ever increasing amount of content for consumption plus to manage the increasing levels of content which they find themselves producing.       Students need to understand how search engines work and why certain items float to the top, they need to be able to evaluate information for validity using alternative sources to triangulate and confirm the truth.    They need to understand differing standpoints, religious differences, cultural differences, philosophical differences and ethical and moral differences.      Students then need to be able to present their own beliefs and viewpoints while understanding that others may disagree.   They need to understand how the content they produce will be stored and presented on the internet and how any shared content or information could have a profound impact on their life as it is now or in the future many years from now.

The above represent only a small number of the issues which we should be seeking to help students understand.   I would suggest that the current programmes of digital literacy and e-safety lessons barely begin to scratch the surface of the discussions we really need to be having with our students.

Building Testing Machines.

booksAround 4 or 5 years ago while working in the Middle East as an educational consultant I asked around 200 colleagues as to what they considered the purpose of education to be via email.     I then analysed the words which those who replied used in their response.   At the time the word which came out as the most frequently used was “knowledge”.

At the time I wondered about this given access to the internet and its apparently boundless “knowledge”.     At the time 21st century skills were widely talked about as important however when it came down to it those working in education still clung to the importance of knowledge.   Words such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication appeared significantly less frequently.

It is a recent blog (See full blog here) which makes me reflect on my findings back then as it raises the issue of identifying what the purpose of education really is.        Mr Ferriters argument focuses on EdTech use although beyond this he goes to suggest that the superficial usage of EdTech may be the result of the pressures being put on teachers to achieve high student results in the terms of standardized tests.

This use of tests including PISA tests to measure the success of teaching and of education in a wider sense seems to imply that the purpose of education is to get students high test results.     I have very strong beliefs that this narrow view on education is damaging to student learning.    As educators is the purpose of education not to prepare students for the future, with the skills required to deal with the largely unpredictable and the often changeable.     Is education not about developing students as adaptable, resilient, self-aware, responsible members of local and global society?   And if this is the case how do a series of test questions fit into the equation?

The big question is how we balance the requirements of accountability and the need for quantifiable and comparable data such as that presented by testing with the requirements to develop students as individuals prepared for what lies ahead, and the qualitative data this produces.    I would suggest that I don’t know what the answer is to this dilemma however we are currently progressing steadily more towards the quantifiable end of the balance, with the continuing focus being put on exam results and standardized tests.   I believe we need to re-establish a balance here before we lose sight of the importance of some of the less quantifiable but equally (and possibly more) important activities carried out within classrooms across the world.     After all are we in the business of building students into test taking machines that regurgitate facts and knowledge or are we trying to develop individuals capable of life long learning?

 

http://www.teachingquality.org/content/blogs/bill-ferriter/blaming-and-shaming-teachers-low-level-edtech-practices    Bill Ferriter   (Sept 2015)

 

 

Infrastructure

net_cablesAnother posting on IT strategy however this time focusing very much on the infrastructure behind what goes on in the classroom.   In my last posting I mentioned technology implementations such as 3D printing, gamification and 3D projection technologies.  You can read the full posting here.  Within the post I suggested that it was largely impossible to predict how technology would develop in terms of the new technologies which might become available in the next few years.   Since then I have came to reconsider my position a little in that there is one thing we can predict in terms of technology in schools.

Now the reconsideration of my position came about as a result of reading a post from @s_bearden and the included presentation.  You can see her presentation here.    In her presentation titled “Disruptive Education Technology” she makes a number of interesting statements however the particular facts that I found interesting were related to the State Education Technology Directors Associate (SETDA) recommendations with regards the infrastructure requirement of K-12 schools or Foundations Stages through to Secondary for those of us here in the UK.    SETDAs recommendations for internal and external data transmission speeds indicate that they predict a 10 fold increase in requirements in the 3 years between the 2014-15 and 2017-18 academic years.   As far as I am concerned that is quite a significant increase.

This reminded me of an infographic I once saw however can’t quite find at the moment.   The graphic indicated the time taken for radio to reach 1 million users, the time for TV to do the same, the internet, Facebook and finally Angry Birds Space.    The trend which was evident when following the progress of each of the above technologies was the increasing speed of adoption of each new technology.   It took TV 10s of years to do what Facebook did in years and what Angry Birds Space did in days.

So in my earlier posting I was partially wrong.    Although we cannot predict the specific technologies we will be using in the classroom and in the world in general, we can be certain that there will need to be significant spending on the infrastructure required to support the new technologies which may exist.   Our internal network bandwidth including wifi capabilities plus the bandwidth associated with our external connectivity to ISPs will need to increase plus will need to increase at a significant rate if it is to effectively support the increasing use of technology, the increasing consumption of online content and the use of new and emerging technologies as and when they become available.

 

Thoughts on developing an IT Strategy

Strat_smallI am in the process of developing a 4 to 5 year IT strategy however how do we create a strategy for IT when we cannot predict what new technologies and Apps may exist?     Technology is evolving at a fast paced rate with iOS 9 recently being released along with Windows 10 to name just 2 major software releases.     iPads continue to be very popular for use in classrooms however the Google Chromebook is making significant inroads.   Windows Surface tablets are still relatively expensive and therefore uncommon however this may change over time as new technologies and devices become cheaper as they always do.

3D projection technology currently is, as far as I am concerned, a little bit of a gimmick with limited usefulness other than in specific subjects.     A nice thing for the limited student engagement during its initial deployment or for impressing parents on school tours however questionable in terms of impact in the wider context of the academic teaching year and versus the purchasing cost of the required devices.

Gamification merits a mention however I may be raising here due to my own sons love for Minecraft.   In fact I believe, as other do, that gamification is not limited to software and IT but extends beyond to turning learning into a game even if this is a physical board, counter or ball game.      As such I am not sure Gamification would need including in an IT strategy as it may actually be better placed in the overall teaching pedagogy strategy.

3D Printing is another newer technology often making an appearance in discussions of educational technology.    I feel there may be significant opportunities here in terms of IT strategy in engaging students in Makerspaces where they make use of technology to produce solutions to real problems.   As such ongoing development and exploration of how 3D printing technologies can be used may merit a place in the IT Strategy I am developing.

It is very difficult to judge what technologies will be available to us over the next 4 or 5 years, what the costs will be, what new uses will have been discovered and overall how the IT technology world will develop.   Given this it is clear that a focus on the technologies isn’t going to work.

In reality the question is not what technologies we are going to use as technology is but a tool.   What really matters is how we use this tool.    Given this my IT strategy doesn’t focus on what we will use but on what we hope to gain from the use of technology.   We want to develop students that are collaborative, communicative, solvers of problems, critical thinkers, resilient individuals, individuals of character, members of a global and local society as well as being tolerant plus possessing a growth mindset.   We want to deliver great learning experiences both within and beyond the classroom that stimulate and engage students.    We want teachers that are confident in using technology where appropriate to redefine how they teach.   We want to use technology to engage parents in the learning journey of their children and the engage the local community and wider world in the work of the school.   We also want technology that is safe, reliable, resilient and flexible.

It is the above which is the strategy and not the technologies we will eventually use.   It is the above which paints the picture of what we hope to achieve through the use of IT as a tool.    From the above we can then create our initial operational plan for the year ahead and initial outlines for the coming year or and beyond confident in the fact that the operational plan may change as new technologies, ideas and approaches become available however we will forever continue working towards the originally developed strategic outcomes.

 

Image courtesy of basketman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net