Edushare blogging and conformity

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…


Twitter for teacher CPD and STEM teaching in primary

As a teacher educator I’m really interested in the potential of social media for CPD. The way colleagues and students have engaged with this especially this year has been amazing. Recently I have been reading a PhD thesis on this very topic by Tim Jefferis. I was made aware of Tim’s work through my own PhD research so I might write about this later. But I think Tim’s research is well worth reading and not just because it is extremely accessible. One of Tim’s findings was that the tweeps (tweeting teachers) in his study embraced the opportunity to debate ideas and liked being challenged. I find this open, even courageous attitude refreshing. I recently experienced this sort of debate first hand, whilst discussing digital technology theory on twitter, and am convinced such experiences are helping me develop as a researcher and as a more resiliant learner. In the example below, within a few seconds of tweeting, I was able to engage with several very well-informed professionals. My own understanding was taken forward far faster than if I’d been researching this area on my own.

Unfortunately I don’t think all teachers are like this and some are fearful of being ‘wrong’ so shy away from challenges. A good example is with the teaching of STEM subjects in primary school. This issue was being debated via the #scotedchat earlier tonight where I argued that there is a fear of science and maths subject teaching and a reluctance from some primary teachers to address this. Whilst tweeting I offered to give examples of topics where conceptual understanding was particularly problematic (see below). Examples include teaching the topics of ‘space’, ‘sound’ or ‘floating and sinking’ (i.e. density) which are often covered in early years but without a sensible rationale.

When I see floating and sinking taught this usually translates into a lesson based around making something that floats, or sinks, probably with placticine. But the concept of density requires an understanding of mass and volume. When applied to floating and sinking an understanding of forces (gravity, air resistance, up thrust) is also important. These are all fairly simple ideas for any adult, educated to degree level, to comprehend but the teacher must have a sound understanding so these can be introduced to learners in a carefully considered manner. So lots of thinking and planning is needed. And this requires intellectual and attitudinal effort so in reality teachers (who are under a variety of pressures) opt for a water tray and a few toy boats.

I really hope this situation will change and would argue the way teachers and students are engaging with social media, and taking responsibility for their own development, is a huge step in the right direction. If you want some evidence of this why not check out the #uodedu Twitter posts or visit some of the Edushare blogs written by Dundee University education students and staff.