Flicking through Netflix the other night, desperately tying to find something worth watching, the scale of how much our access to resources has changed really struck me. From the three channels of my childhood, I now have access to thousands of programmes I don’t want to watch; alongside Spotify where, for about a tenner a month, I no longer have to buy any other music and can listen to almost anything at any time. Don’t get me wrong: I’m aware of the moral arguments against music streaming and the problems that causes for the artists; however, I think it is an inevitable step in the process. It ain’t why, it just is. So I can have all the TV I ever want, all the music I ever want and all the books I ever want, all on my smart phone.
But that cultural change surely comes with a cost. The ‘on demand’ approach to our lives is a dangerous game to play when it slips into education. When our students begin to believe that they can access us at times of their convenience, when our time becomes theirs, we should begin to worry. Of course, we want our students to achieve the best they can, better even, but that will come at a cost, in workload and wellbeing. The onset of exam revision season brings those concerns to centre stage. And giving them unlimited access to our time may be doing them more harm than good.
Of course, greater use of digital technology is a wonderful thing when it used appropriately. The use of online learning networks – such as Glow in Scotland – allows us to top load our students with resources and access to further work; but our time cannot be a Netflix for our students. I want them to access help at any point through a wide range of on-line resources and revision guides. What I don’t want is a never-ending supported study where I am forever on call.
We must be able to distinguish between our resources and ourselves. I already see new teachers with every day lunchtime study sessions and after school drop ins. It cannot end well. Workload problems are becoming the most important issue in education so to add to that in some vain attempt to support student learning is a roadmap to burn out and exhaustion; and it doesn’t help our colleagues who, very often, feel pressured to do the same. By all means, have a window where students can come and see you. But close it more often than not.
A part of our Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland was to create independent students who would take responsibility for their own learning. The hope is that they would be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. Our desperate clamour for raising attainment – a noble aim, of course – results in schools offering more and more support and asking teachers to do more and more. What we need to do is foster that independence in our children where, at some point, they need to go away and work hard. So, like Netflix, they often may not find what they are looking for. Especially if it’s us