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News & Views

Why British teachers won't blog
By Terry Freedman
Created on Mon, 6 Feb 2006, 13:55

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A call to action and a call for papers!

It is, of course, a huge generalisation to say that British teachers don't blog. Many do, and some even do classroom blogging. But on the basis of anecdotal evidence and personal experience of going into British schools, I would say that blogging and related activities and tools do not form a strong part of the educational landscape. In fact, it is because of this that, when you try to think of (good) practice in this area, the same names crop up again and again. It may be, of course, that there is a vast number of unsung heroes, an army of pioneers who are pushing back the boundaries of the possible, but I doubt it.

So, if I am right, why is this the case? Why do most British teachers not use the new tools available? Here is a list that I hope will prove a starting point for discussion and possibly even some research. The points are in no particular order. I should say that these points have been formulated as a result of both my own cogitations and discussions with colleagues from right across the educational ICT spectrum in the UK. However, I must, of course, that the views expressed here are entirely my own., and I have deliberately not quoted anybody for fear of inadvertently misrepresenting them!

  • The early/late adopter tendency. Whatever terminology one adopts, the fact of the matter is that when anything new appears, such as a new technique, or a new tool or a new device, a very few people look at it, play with it, experiment, tear it apart and generally see what, if anything, can be done with it. If the concept is proven in these early stages, more and more people adopt it, especially as another common occurrence is that sooner or later someone brings out a more compact version (cf visualisers), an easier to install version (cf Moodle) or a more robust version (insert own favourite example here).
  • A perceived lack of curriculum time. In many schools I have visited, when I ask the teacher why they raced through a particular topic, or why they don't try a different approach, they say they don't have the time. They must have finished X number of units by the end of term, so there is no time for niceties such as ensuring that all students understand what the teacher has been telling them.
  • There is a lack of understanding of ICT as a subject or as a tool, or at least, not enough understanding to be able to deviate from the officially recommended approach. Many schools have adopted the national strategy units and materials, and no matter how much the "powers that be" may protest to the contrary, schools tend to see the national strategy frameworks and their recommendations as mandatory. Even where they don't, the materials are usually reasonably good so teachers see little point in reinventing the wheel. However, no matter how good such materials, the effect of any kind of national strategy is usually to raise the standards of the poorest teachers whilst doing little to encourage development of the best teachers. The result is often a kind of blandness and "sameness", and it would therefore be surprising and very unusual to find blogs and wikis etc entering into the picture.
  • There is a dearth of understanding of pedagogy, educational psychology or educational philosophy. This has come about because of the introduction of various ways and means by which people can become teachers relatively quickly. Whilst the teachers who have come through such "fast-track" routes may be very good at their jobs and highly professional, it is often the luck of the draw whether they are introduced to such concepts as Bloom's Taxonomy, Maslow's Hierarchy or Bruner's Spiral Curriculum. In other words, what I am asking is: where is the underlying understanding that enables a teacher to take something apart and then reconstruct it using different tools or for use with a different client group?
  • There is a climate of fear. This is almost tangible when you go into some schools. The emphasis on the importance of league tables, whose order depends on examination results, means that only the most confident, arrogant or stupidest teachers are likely to even think about trying something which is relatively untried, unless they work in an establishment which enjoys an enlightened and confident leadership team.
  • Lack of time to find out what the tools are and how they might be used.
  • Lack of time to apply the tools, which would usually involve altering lesson plans, for which there is little time, even with the new PPA time which English teachers (should) now have.
  • There are (perceived) technical barriers. Having undertaken some research into this, I can say that at the moment there is no commonly accepted learning platform in the UK which is easy to install (not just technically, but which will pass the objections raised by the ICT technical support team or managed services provider), has all the tools, and meets the (as yet unspecified, as far as I am aware) standards laid down by Becta. (If you know of one which passes all these tests, please let me know.)

So, where does all this leave us? I am hoping to be instrumental in spreading good practice and inspiring teachers to "have a go" with these new tools through the medium of a booklet I am working on. The booklet, which will be available very soon, contains reports from people in schools in the UK and abroad who have tried blogs, podcasting and so on with their pupils. I am hoping to complete this in the next week, but as with any e-resource it is infinitely expandable! So, if you know of, or have done, something innovative, exciting and above all technically easy in these areas, please let me know as soon as possible.

I am also a member of the British Computer Society's Education and Training Expert Panel's E-Learning Working Group. We met recently, and I played a part in steering the group to examining this area. Consequently, we will be working on case studies which will enable a teacher to search by both curriculum area and tool.

For example, a history teacher could look up "History" and see a case study of how wikis have been used in history. Alternatively, a teacher could look up "wikis" and see how they have been used in different subject areas. An ambitious but exciting project!

In the meantime, let me know of anything you think should be brought to the attention of a wider audience, don't be shy, and let me know! And, as the saying goes, watch this space!

What do you think? Please leave a comment.