A bit of a ‘stooshie’ kicked off on Twitter a week or so back, and I wasn’t sure about blogging on this topic. After some contemplation, given the fact that transparency is something I value and all this is in the public domain, I’ve decided to publish this post. Also I invite, indeed welcome, comment on this topiceven if this challenges my view (especially from those mentioned).
So what was the issue? Over the last couple of years education students at Dundee University have been encouraged to write blogs, mainly led by my colleague Derek Roberston, although other staff have been involved too. The original rationale was to encourage reflection, analysis and greater confidence in expressing opinions and debating ideas about education, in a public forum. This is quite a step forward as in my experience teachers, particularly in the primary sector, are not always been keen on voicing opinions openly. The blogs are hosted on Glow (Scotland’s educational intranet) and syndicated using the #edushare tag. The results have been quite remarkable as a good proportion of students have really taken to this, some with real enthusiasm, despite there being no formal requirement to do so. Of course staff, including Derek, have encouraged this but I really like the unforced nature of the blogs, which also act as a portfolio tracking progress (unlike the GTCS professional update process, which is ‘signed off’ by a manger every 5 years). Derek had been Tweeting about Glow and the blogs and in doing so he drew attention from beyond our University. He has also blogged about this and how it has influenced the culture of the students.
And this brings us to the ‘shooshie’. Derek was challenged, by Andrew Old a teacher who also blogs, about the issue of conformity within the University of Dundee and lack of originality in the #Edushare blogs. Andrew argued that ‘You get dozens of trainees all saying the same things. Not a good advert for an academic institution.‘ I could see why he may have thought this as there are multiple blog posts on similar topics, but as the undergraduate course has 60+ students per year and they get the same lectures, this isn’t really surprising. Andrew then went on to suggest that students weren’t able to challenge the common view. But what came next was very interesting. One of the students (Sharon) joined the debate, signposting their own blog as evidence. I hope you’d agree this is not what you’d expect from a ‘trainee’ who had been subjected to enforced institutional conformity.
It isn’t surprising that Andrew put this view forward as he curates a blog (The Echo Chamber) which explicitly aims to challenge the usually progressive view of education put forward by many. Personally I see this presence of a counter point as being important, whether you agree with the position or not. In my last post I mentioned how I’d be made aware of criticism of a theoretical model of digital technology (SAMR) which I’d tweeted about. Ironically it was Derek that alerted me to the criticism. But he did this in a constructive manner (I do know him personally, so maybe that helped) and the way in which others then contributed to the debate allowed me to enhance and deepen my understanding. In his doctoral thesis on the Twitter and leadership Tim Jefferis classes this phenomenon as ‘unresolved tensions’. Perhaps as Twitter, and social media in general, evolves as a professional development tool facing up to these tensions will lead to education becoming more open, honest and transparent.
Anyway regardless of the outcome of this current debate I think, as a lecturer and teacher, I’ve learnt plenty from this experience. Firstly the #edushare blogs are having an impact because people beyond Dundee University have noticed them, and engaging with them to a degree which they feel they can challenge them. Secondly although the criticism from Andrew could have knocked the confidence of the student bloggers I think it may have the opposite effect by getting them talking about this issue, with some clearly wanting to show this is not the case. But most importantly I am going to think about how I approach teacher education (maybe there are times where ‘group think’ prevails?). And how we deal with this to become even better in future. I’ve already started by discussing this Twitter debate with a group of PG education students, some of whom had seen the debate unfold. However I stopped short of telling them what I thought because I need to trust them to do the thinking for themselves. And who knows, they might blog about it later…