One of the more interesting and useful ideas from central government (it seems to me that there isn’t usually a huge pool to choose from, but that’s another matter), was the Diploma, in England. This was a vocationally-oriented course with theory. I say ‘vocationally-oriented’ rather than ‘vocational’ because it didn’t lead to a full qualification in an area. It was more like a grounding for undertaking a more formal and specialised course later.
What I thought was especially good about the Diploma was the kind of training provided for teachers who would be teaching the Diploma course to their students. Yes, there were the usual sessions spent in formal training, with their ice-breakers (which always leave me cold) and endless bullet points. But there was also a requirement for teachers to have a visit to an organisation relevant to their particular subject.
For one of the training days for the Information Technology course, I arranged a visit to London’s Press Association.
I wrote about this visit in In the picture: the Press Association. What was so good about the visit? As several teachers said, “I’ve seen here a lot of the technology I’ve told my students about actually being used. It’s not just theory.”
What we saw may be itemised as follows:
A kind of word cloud was used to give a visual at-a-glance summary of the news as it emerged.
The effects of changing the markup in a document could be seen in changes in appearance of the document in real time on an adjacent monitor.
A reporter could take a photo and send it straight through to the news room via wi-fi.
The technicians in charge of maintaining the computers in both the Press Association and to smaller outfits that had signed up to the PA’s technical support service could spot a problem coming and avert it without any user even realising that there had been a potential problem.
All of this sounds ordinary now, but the visits to the Press Association took place in 2009. This was a time when there were no cloud services to speak of, and the ability to send photos directly from a camera had only just been introduced -- by one company in particular, and at a price.
What made the visit to the Press Association so worthwhile was the following set of principles:
It demonstrated technology which, to all intents and purposes, was just a little in the future. It was all a logical extension of what was already widely available, so it showed what was possible without sounding far-fetched.
The technology worked. Even when there was a major transport disruption because of severe weather conditions, the PA still managed to get stories out because of their reporters working remotely and being able to send copy and pictures directly to the news desk via wi-fi.
The people who showed us the technology were the people who used it every day. That is, they were experts in the practical application of the technology, and whose ability to to their job relied on understanding how to use the technology and its being available 24/7.
I think these points are worth making, obvious though they are. I find it tedious to have to listen to someone pontificating about some aspect of teaching when all they’ve done is a couple of years in the classroom and won an award. I prefer to be taught by someone who hasn’t just “got the t-shirt”, but has acquired several of them.
As for the technology’s availability and reliability, you sometimes see adverts for companies offering a great service: 99.9% uptime. That sounds to me like 0.01% downtime. That may not sound too bad -- but wait till it happens in your lesson. (See my article about carrying out a health check.)
Staff visits can be a great way of seeing good technology in action, which you can confidently tell your pupils about. If you use the principles above to guide where to go, I don’t think you’ll go far wrong.