It’s Not About You…

Mention NOF Training round these parts and certain teachers will start to choke on their energy bars, break into a cold sweat or harumph out of the staffroom. NOF (New Opportunities Fund) Training took place around about ten years ago and was an ICT training programme which all teachers, as far as I am aware, HAD to undergo, regardless of previous knowledge and ability. Everyone was given one of those big shiny folders which authorities like so much and each school had designated trainers who helped staff through the course. I was one of those trainers. Here’s some money; anyone have any old rope? It’s a deal!

As far as I remember NOF caused as many problems as it solved. The resentment from those who were way ahead of what NOF had to offer appeared to isolate a whole host of ICT experts who could have transformed the way we use technology in schools. However the reality was that, in my school anyway, more than 50% of all teaching staff claimed they either couldn’t or were not comfortable in using even e-mail and the Internet. Afterwards my fellow trainers and I patted ourselves on the backs when we got all staff up to a minimum standard. At huge cost. Never mind. I had a great holiday that year.

Ten years later and I feel we may be heading the same way with Glow. I love Glow. Or at least have loved Glow. Two years ago I had barely moved on from e-mail and Internet and rarely used either in the class. I had heard the complaints about Glow: the inaccessibility; the complicated set up; the problematic page creation system; but I wanted to have a go myself. From scratch I got stuck in and found out about creating content. Now, over the last two years, I have used Blogs, Chatrooms, Homework Drop, Discussion pages and lots more. I couldn’t do that before. I can now.

Yes, I know there are better ways out there. I know I could have done all of those things perhaps more easily. But I did not have the confidence or skill sets to even start. Glow allowed me to do a lot of these things in, what I considered, a safe and supportive environment. You may say that others are safe too but please don’t underestimate my perception of what safe and supportive may be. What I will add is that it might be time for me to move on from Glow. I now have the skills to do more than it seems to offer.

However, on a daily basis, I continue to praise and publicise Glow in school. I look around and see the ICT resistors but I also see teachers who lack the confidence to use technology in their classrooms. They are out there; and constantly claiming that Glow doesn’t do the things it should is not helpful to someone who knows nothing. And in my narrow experience, I have found that many teachers who say that you could could create a better Blog or Wiki outside of Glow are often not doing so.

Where Glow needs to and can work at the moment is in a similar way to what happened with NOF. Focus on getting every teacher Blogging and such like and I think it will have been more successful. Not what was intended, YET, but significant progress. And it requires us all to help them do that. We too often forget that it’s not about us. If you’re using great ICT in the class then that’s wonderful but next door might not be. A lot of teachers are intimidated by you, believe it or not. I’ll continue to help them access Glow because it’s a start. And that means something. To criticise Glow and expect more is not only our right as teachers in Scotland it is our duty. A lot of money has been spent on it and we should want it to work. But maybe small steps are okay at the moment.

Until Glow is much much better, I don’t think we can expect much more than a NOF style raising of the bar for all teachers. I am thinking of moving on from Glow. But it’s not about me…

Curriculum for Excellence and the Diderot Effect

When does the time come when things stop being new? Is there a specific moment when these things become part of the fabric of our lives and, just there, no longer standing out? In an excellent post from Bill Boyd recently, he argues that we should drop the term, ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ and simply call it the Scottish Curriculum. There comes a time, Bill claims, ‘when a name persists beyond its natural usefulness’.  It may indeed be the time to suggest that the Curriculum for Excellence is at that point. Despite problems in its implementation, difficulties and confusions in its management in a time of political upheaval at Government level, as educators who return to work next week for another year, perhaps it is time to stop talking about Curriculum for Excellence and simply return to great teaching. However, it is never as simple as that, is it?

Which brings me to The Diderot effect. The Diderot effect stems from a short essay called ‘Regrets on Parting with my Old Dressing Gown’, by French Philosopher, Denis Diderot. In it, the writer contemplates his life choices after the gift of an expensive new dressing gown plunges him into debt and despair. He’s delighted with the new gift but begins to see that this beautiful new thing starts to make everything else look dreary and old. The essay deals with his quest to replace everything else with shiny new things, in the hope that his new gown won’t seem so out of place. He descends into poverty and ruin.

It seems to me that part of the difficulty in ‘implementing’ the Curriculum for Excellence, or any shiny new curriculum really,  has been the assumption when any great change takes place, that everything that came before it is now defunct – dreary and old, in effect. Experienced teachers have every right to feel slighted by this, even if it is only a perception.  A situation should never arise where previous practice is immediately dismissed, whether that is done mistakenly or not. Effective ways of informing, collaborating and engaging with teachers were missed. Communication came across as flawed but it is not too late. The biggest challenges still to come are surely in preserving the best bits of what is happening and merging them with newer ideas.

It is perhaps these new ideas which provide the energy and thrust of any new curriculum. We also have to keep in mind that recent entrants to the profession will be aware of nothing else. They are not influenced by the past or indeed, holding on to something long past its sell-by date. However, they are also the source of some of the most original, creative ideas around. The Diderot effect will only occur if we undervalue either past or future. Without the best of all worlds our curriculum will be a shadow of what it could be.

It seems to me that the only true success of any new curriculum is that it is damn better than the last one, not merely something new. Our education systems require us to be the best we can at all times. In order to achieve that we need to take the best things from everywhere; past, present, future. The ‘narrator’ in Diderot’s essay becomes obsessed with newness. In doing so he ends up ruined. There is a real danger that unless we start to teach really well the Scottish Curriculum will become just another new set of clothes and a wonderful opportunity will be missed. It’s time to get back to doing what we do best. The rest of the world, it seems, look to our new curriculum structures with envy. Why can’t we?