There’s Always The Next Generation of Teachers?

Digital technologies in the classroom...

bett_logo2BETT 2017 approaches. Always one of the high spots in the UK education technology year, and still home to some of the best networking and professional development opportunities for those excited by the potential of technology to assist learning. It may be difficult for this generation of teachers to escape the day job to attend. But if you can make it to London’s ExCeL centre between the 25th and 28th January, it can be a CPD goldmine.

Now I first started providing professional development in education technologies to teachers in the last century, during the challenging era of analogue-only technologies. Excited by the impact of technology on my own pedagogy, I joined the Inner London Education Authority’s Learning Resources Branch. They were not only offering professional training in the approach, but putting ed tech expertise in all their secondary schools. Thus the next generation of teachers would have in-school CPD support to help them get to grips with the wonderful potential of education technology. So surely that should sort things quickly enough, when it came to teachers’ needs for CPD in ed tech? Well, no…

Analogue to Digital

Now some of you strolling around BETT this year may find today’s education technology challenging. Believe me, it’s a walk in the park compared to some of the exotic analogue systems that teachers had to work with back in the day. It was hard enough even carrying those huge black and white reel to reel video recorders, let alone setting them up and capturing something meaningful. Kodak carousel magazineAnd a corrupted PowerPoint file is a mere trifle compared to the sight of your knocked-over Kodak Carousel magazine rolling across the floor, scattering its 80 unnumbered 35mm slides in all directions.

There are eight different ways to put each of those slides back in the magazine, if you have never tried it. Or indeed, even if you have. Unsurprising then that only the really committed teacher in that generation would take up much of the education technology, and the accompanying CPD, that I had to offer back then.

So when digital technology started appearing in schools, as the 70s became the 80s, I was one of the first in the queue to get involved. Most teachers had struggled to use analogue technologies in their teaching, but surely digital would be different? Wordstar on the RM 380Z was not the slickest word processor, but compared with producing learning resources on a spirit duplicator it was wonderful. And it allowed you to edit, revise and improve your teaching resources rather than start again from scratch!

BETTer by far…

Life got even more exciting as computers actually made it into the classroom, and I made it to the Inner London Education Computing Centre, and even to my first ever BETT. THE first ever BETT, still half full of furniture and analogue technologies but with the exciting new digital technologies too!

And I found I was now training large groups of teachers from several generations in the use of these digital technologies, across a surprisingly wide group of subjects. OK, the teachers used to say it was difficult for them to grasp this stuff for use in their teaching, but they thought the kids seemed to manage it easily enough in their ICT lessons, so surely things would be OK for the next generation of teachers? Things were surely picking up?

More years passed, then along came the web. My CPD sessions now included stuff on how search engines worked, and of course the teachers again said it was all so difficult to grasp. But not to worry, they felt that the kids back at school clearly got it, they even used Google as a verb! Now they all used ICT in different subjects, so we would be alright for the young teachers of the future.

The millennium came and went, I picked up a European project on esafety which involved delivering CPD on the appropriate use of the internet. And yet again many of the teachers said it was all rather too difficult, but that they knew that the youngsters could grasp it. After all they were now ‘digital natives’, for goodness sake. So as long as they picked up the finer points during ICT at school surely everything would be OK for schools in the future.

And the present…?

BBC MicrobitLast term I was working with a group of young trainee primary teachers, exploring the use of digital technologies for teaching and learning. You’ll guess by now that I was unsurprised when they said they found all this new Computing difficult, but the kids at the schools they visited on teaching practice seemed to cope OK. Hence we should be alright in the not too distant future, when those pupils become teachers!

This means that the next generation of teachers now being trained, who have now been taught by at least two generations of those earlier ‘kids in school’ who were said to have ‘got it’, still find it hard. They also still think the students in the classroom understand the technology better than they do. And often seem fairly happy just to leave them to it…

Will any generation of teachers ever accept that real digital literacy isn’t just about looking confident, being fast and seemingly adept at using the latest technology? And understand that many of the kids they teach really DON’T know what they are doing, they are just less afraid to experiment. Or maybe just better at disguising their shortcomings? Will teachers accept it’s their role not only to understand what digital literacy entails, but that it’s also crucial that they up their game to help teach it to their pupils? That they need to see themselves as digitally literate, and help children come to grips with it too? Or are we destined to just continue to go round this loop forever, always leaving it to the next generation of teachers (or recursive iteration, as the digitally literate might put it). It’s over thirty years now, after all?

Going to BETT 2017 won’t necessarily offer you all the CPD that we need to help break this cycle. But it might just be a start. I do hope to see you there.