We mentioned the recent Educator Confidence Report from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt a few days ago in the context of teachers spending their own money on tech PD.
One other nugget of information in that report was (a) how teachers learn about tech vs. (b) how they would like to learn about tech.
Top 3 Ways Educators Learn About Using Technology Effectively in the Classroom:
- Informal discussions with other teachers
- Formal school/district CPD provision
- Resources included with instructional resources (Note: for this we’ve read hardware / software tutorials from vendors)
Top 3 Ways Educators Want to Learn New Technology for Instruction:
- Example lesson plans
- Online tutorials
- Classroom coaching
Obviously, we’re pretty sold on the value of online tutorials as a time-efficient, cost-effective way for teachers to learn. So it might sound odd to say that the best approach probably mixes some of all of the above.
Thinking about technology as a monolithic “thing” that teachers need to learn is short-sighted. Teachers need to gain confidence with the technology itself. They need to understand how it supports teaching and learning. They need to know how to adapt technologies for use in their subject areas and grade levels.
Each of these needs should be supported in different ways. Some benefit from straightforward instruction. Others are best learned ‘on demand’ in a job embedded environment. Yet others need to be understood in the context of formal school / district priorities and policies.
Video can be used to address a lot of this – which is why we like it so much – but it should also support a blended approach to teacher professional learning.
A few questions to ask:
- How might classroom coaches use video tutorials to create a flipped learning environment?
- How might video be used to share best practice amongst colleagues?
- How can formal offline CPD build on informal online learning opportunities?
- How can vendors use workshops, educator communities and video to go beyond product-specific learning?
Since the start of the year, we’ve been working busily in the background on one big problem – how can we make professional learning for teachers more effective? And specifically, how can we help teachers learn tech?
In the coming weeks we’ll be unveiling some of our work on a solution – bitesized professional learning videos for teachers – ahead of formally launching our new subscription platform on October 1st.
For now I thought we’d kickstart the conversation with a look at the challenge itself.
Background: Things Aren’t Working
Back in 2015, the Gate’s Foundation published a report called “Teacher’s Know Best”. It’s definitely worth a read as a primer on the current state of play in teacher PD. From that report, a few things stand out about where we are right now.
First, teacher professional development in the US costs $18B a year. Yes, $18 billion. That’s more than $4,500 for every one of 4M+ teachers.
Second, teachers don’t think it’s working. Just 29 percent are “highly satisfied” with current professional development offerings and only 34 percent think professional development has improved.
And finally, the kicker when it comes to technology in particular:
Large majorities of teachers do not believe that professional development is helping them prepare for the changing nature of their jobs, including using technology and digital learning tools, analyzing student data to differentiate instruction …
In short, professional development is expensive, isn’t serving teachers and isn’t keeping pace with the changing job spec.
There are, of course, plenty of exceptions and examples of schools and 3rd party providers getting this very right. But for the vast majority of teachers in this survey at least, things are very wrong.
But This is Important
It’s not just education that has a professional development challenge. I’d wager that many professionals in law, finance, manufacturing, retail, government and pretty much every other sector might say similar things about poor access to training, particularly in tech.
But education is different.
Educators help prepare our young people for the future; and about the only thing we can say with certainty about that future is that it will increasingly be dominated by technology.
If teachers don’t feel confident using the technology that we have today, how can they adequately prepare our kids for tomorrow’s tech-driven future?
This is an issue for the education system, yes. But it’s also a pretty big deal for industry (who might want to employ those kids), parents (who want their kids to succeed), teachers (who are under increasing pressure to use new technologies) and, of course, the kids themselves.
And it’s not only a problem in the US. Are things really any better in the UK? Asia? South America? India? Africa?
What’s the Problem?
We think there are a few, intertwined, issues that make professional learning particularly challenging:
- It’s Expensive – $18 billion is a lot of money. A good chunk of the cost can be attributed to the way that most professional learning is delivered – in workshops, conferences and inset / in service days. Consider the staff costs of taking teachers out of class, arranging sub cover, workshop facilitators to pay for, travel to conferences etc…. And of course, training is one of the first things to get hit when budgets are tight.
- It’s Time Consuming – Teachers are busy. Finding time to attend training is difficult.
- Technology Moves Too Fast – The pace of change in technology has always outpaced the pace of change in education. This is to be expected, but we can do better.
- Scale – As noted above, there are great examples of teacher PD done well. But how do we scale up these solutions when we’re dealing with millions of teachers spread across countries and continents? To achieve the UN Development Goals in education, we’re going to need another 69 million teachers by 2030 – all of whom will need to be trained.
And what about equality of access? If good tech-focused CPD is something that is expensive and in limited supply, it stands to reason that schools, regions and countries with fewer resources will also be at a disadvantage when it comes to providing adequate training.
A Call to Simple Logic
None of this will be news to anyone in education. And it’s certainly not to say that there aren’t super smart people and organisations tackling this problem head on.
But for all the great work being done to emphasise technology skills for our students; we need to start taking teacher professional learning equally as seriously.
MakeMatic want to have a go at helping.
SxSWedu has become an annual pilgrimage for MakeMatic – a chance to meet exciting innovators from across education, drink beer and eat BBQ.
This year we’ve pitched a session on using bitesized video content for professional development. But there were over 1,400 sessions proposed for the event, so we need your vote. Anyone can vote – even if you’re not planning to attend – so long as you think our session is something worth talking about.
You can vote for us here: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/69880
So what will we be talking about?
Well, the session will feature input from me (Mark) and our CLO / Advisor, Liz Fogel. We’ll be making the case for a new approach to professional learning for teachers – particularly the need for better training around technology – and then getting into the pros / cons of video as (part of) the solution.
If you’ve got any questions or ideas we should include in our talk, please feel free to reach out.
TLDR; Most teachers surveyed spend their own money on professional development. They should be applauded, but we all need to do more to help.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have published their 2017 Educator Confidence Report. It’s got plenty to keep a stats junkie going for a while – and EducationDive have a good summary – but a few things jumped out.
- Nearly all teachers use tech in some kind of professional capacity 😀
- Confidence in using tech is growing 🙂
- 1/3 of teachers surveyed said a lack of tech PD was a concern 🙁
- The vast majority (86%) spend their own cash on accessing tech PD 😐
Let’s pick up on that last one. Professionals spending their own money on developing their skills isn’t inherently a bad thing. In fact, it’s something to be celebrated.
And it’s certainly proof of demand for tech PD – and suggests that there is an increasing diversity of supply i.e. providers outside of schools / districts stepping in to meet that demand.
But … we do have to ask whether someone else should be helping to foot the bill here. Are teachers spending their own money to enhance provision and take their learning further? Or, are they spending because they’re not getting what they need?
Teachers benefit directly from increasing their skills, but others do too. Should companies contribute toward the cost as a way of investing in their future talent pool? What about parents? Or the tech companies selling hardware and software to schools – are they doing enough? And surely the education system itself needs to do more.
Addressing tech skills in teaching is something we should all be focused on. We should applaud teachers who invest in their own PD, but we should also be asking “what more can everyone do to help”?
Back at the beginning of the year, The Telegraph ran a piece about the shockingly low level of tech skills in the UK workforce, and how that’s mirrored in education, specifically FE. It’s a really interesting read, so I’ll quote at length …
… Britain’s adult population as a whole is struggling with technology. The OECD Adult Skills report, published last year, indicated that a whopping 75 percent of adults in this country only have tech skills around Level 1 and below. Just 5 percent have L3 skills, which relates to something as routine as using a scheduling tool to set up a meeting. These are pretty shocking statistics.
You would hope then that employers – particularly those in education – might want to invest a little in fixing this, but when it comes to 40 FE colleges surveyed …
More than 60 percent of the organisations involved had no specific development plans in place to develop the digital skills of their staff, despite the evident gaps in knowledge and application.
The author, Bev Jones from the Career Colleges Trust, goes on to make the case for effective CPD as the solution.
… we have to allay teachers’ fear, which our research suggests is the key issue. This fear is on two counts; fear that students may know more than them and fear that the technology wouldn’t work during the lesson. Quality CPD is key here.
Like every other profession, teaching is being transformed by technology – and like everyone else, a lot of teachers are struggling. This is reflected in a lack of confidence and, as Bev notes, fear.
To address this we need to provide teachers with appropriate training, and (just as importantly) time to engage in that training. Training builds skills. Skills build confidence.
And confident teachers have a far better chance of helping tomorrow’s workforce build stronger tech skills.
We met the very cool Sophie Bailey from the EdTech Podcast while we were out at SxSWedu this year – and she was kind enough to interview us about what’s currently wrong with educator CPD and how a new approach might improve professional learning.
Listen above (we’re on towards the end) or you can check out the full thing and subscribe to the EdTech Podcast here.
One of the keynote speakers at this year’s SxSWedu was Ayah Bdeir, founder of Littlebits – electronic building blocks that snap together using magnets, making for ‘foolproof inventing’. At the event they launched the STEAM Student set (see video above) – a kit designed for both self-directed and classroom learning.
What really makes the kit standout is the huge amount of supporting content and resources they’ve developed for the pack including; a 120+ page teacher guide, well-designed invention challenges, worksheets for young people to track their efforts and guidelines that link to NGSS Engineering Design standards and the Common Core.
This is exactly what I was talking about in my recent post – the need to make new creative technologies work for teachers rather than simply relying on superstar educators to figure it all out for themselves.
In an article she wrote for Edsurge at the end of last year, Ayah wrote:
“…it’s time for maker ed to move into the mainstream. Making should not be relegated to the times spent outside of class, e.g. lunch or after school. Nor should it only flourish in private schools, which don’t have to teach to standards. We need to work to show how making is a rigorous process that leads to valuable new technologies, products and experiences. Specifically, we need to tie maker projects to standards-based curriculum and show clearly the kinds of knowledge, skills and practices students learn as part of making.“
What we’re not talking about here is squeezing making into a curriculum where it doesn’t fit. This is about articulating where it does fit and making that clear to educators. We need to understand that educators have a job to do and a large part of that is addressing the standards that have been set out. Once you get that, it’s not a massive leap to start creating the kind of companion resources that teachers need to make their lives easier.
If we really want to move maker technologies (and all the other exciting tools we can think of) into the heart of education, the very least we can do is help write the teachers’ edition.
Last week we had the pleasure of presenting a session at SxSWedu in Austin. If you haven’t encountered SxSWedu yet, it’s a 4-day conference-slash-festival focused on innovation in education.
As a spin-off from the much larger SxSW Interactive / Music / Film festival there’s an obvious technology slant to proceedings. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that there was a lot of maker hardware, online learning platforms and educational gaming on show. Lots of it. So much in fact that one thing became really clear.
A lot of what’s innovative in education right now, was not built for education to begin with.
MakerBot ran a session on maker tools facilitating an entrepreneurial mindset; Minecraft was showcased as an education tool; VR, AR and 360 video demos abounded and YouTube educators talked about viral content. None of these technologies were developed explicitly for education but they’re finding a home there.
So what can we take from this?
- We don’t yet have the Teacher’s Edition
New tools are great, but how they get used in the classroom setting is still a work in progress. There is a huge amount to do both in terms of professional development for educators and developing content. Without these things we are overly reliant on a small number of early-adopter educators. They should be celebrated – but without the “Teacher’s Edition” (lesson plans, curriculum maps, worksheets, tutorials etc…) we will struggle to move beyond these superstars. This is an easy fix.
- Good educators are seeking creative tools
In most cases, these kinds of tools are finding their way into schools through individual teachers with a gut instinct about their potential. This is encouraging a second generation of similar tools which have been crafted with education in mind – Kano, LittleBits, SAM Labs. Both are being driven by a desire to teach new skills and an effort to put the fun and engagement (that tools like gaming can offer) to use.
- Formal education isn’t the only kind
When we talk education our minds frequently go straight to schools. But people learn in lots of different environments, both formal and informal. The jury is still out as to whether these new tools will find their best education use inside the classroom, in the home or somewhere else altogether.
- “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
Access is a problem. Not every school can afford these tools. Mass adoption will require some combination of free/cheaper alternatives, open-source options, increased school budgets, corporate sponsorship etc etc etc. It’s a problem that compounds diversity issues in many industries. This should be a problem everyone is focused on.
- We have to avoid the tendency to “curriculumise” cool tools
We run a risk when we try too hard to map the use of tools to existing, standardised curriculum. Games-based learning shouldn’t loose the game. Maker technologies need to leave room for creativity. Coding in the classroom needs to focus on making new things. It’s understandable that we aim to connect new tech to what we already need to teach (try finding space and budget for new subjects) but where these tools work, they work because they are engaging. We can’t lose that.
- It links to Project-based Learning
The best examples we had creative tools playing a role inside a wider project-based learning (PBL) activity. PBL lends itself to all sorts of “21st century skills”, portfolio development and more relevant work-like experiences. All good stuff in our book.
- The structures aren’t there yet
It was really exciting to see so many innovative educators and companies, truly passionate about using new tools to help young people learn and flex their creativity. But the frustrations were clear. A lot of time was spent talking about barriers – barriers to procurement, budget concerns, CPD issues, even seemingly simple things like getting time in a computer lab for non-computer classes.
Based on SxSWedu at least, we’re not struggling for ideas – and they’re coming from media, tech and the arts. And that’s a large part of the problem; because these ideas and tools coming from the outside in, the structures aren’t there to support them yet.
There’s little doubt that given sufficient time, these barriers will get addressed from inside formal education. Unfortunately that will take more time than it should, which is fundamentally unfair to kids going to school tomorrow morning.