Lessons from the world of sports: #4 The rule of expert guidance

teacher's conference 2011Here is the fourth part of this mini-series, in which I consider lessons we might learn from sports and sports personalities which we can apply to educational ICT. Today I’d like to consider the role of the sports coach, and to start with I’ll quote from a conversation that has never taken place, and probably will never take place.

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Who Ya Gonna Call? Results of My 'Experts' Poll

A while ago I conducted a survey to find out who or where people turn to for expert help. Here is a quick snapshot of the results:

Who you turn to for answersIn a forthcoming issue of Computers in Classrooms I'll be adding more detail, such as what people suggested in the 'Other' category. Thanks to everyone who took part in the survey.


Oh, Sir, You are too kind

Reading through people's blogs, especially those of educators, one thing that strikes me is what a nice bunch we are. Even David Warlick's rant is, essentially, nice. Jeff Utecht's recent blog about fear is, essentially, kind. Everything they say and everything others say about barriers to implementing the use of educational technology across the school  is correct, but I also believe that part of the problem is our willingness to make allowances.

It is usually at this point that people who know me call me a grumpy old man, but in my mind I am an angry young man! Surely there are some things which we must regard as simply unacceptable? Period?

Here is a personal example of what I find unacceptable. One of my relatives asked me last Sunday if I could create a Word document for her so that she could type a list of dates. She has been teaching, I believe, for over 20 years, and is in a senior position in her school. Why has she been allowed to get away with such a basic lack of knowledge for so long?

In this particular instance it doesn't have any direct effect on the children she teaches, or the staff she manages. Or does it? I am a firm believer in what has been called the "hidden curriculum", in which what you teach and what the kids learn may be rather different. What are her children and staff learning from her behaviour? I would say the following:

1. Technology is relatively unimportant, otherwise she would have learnt how to use it to some extent (I even had to show her how to get from column one in the table to column two, and how to save her work).

2. That it's OK to let people know that your are technologically illiterate.

3. That, from the point of view of one's employer, it is OK to be technologically illiterate.

4. That if you appear helpless enough someone will help you.

I think that although that list is based on just one personal incident, we can extrapolate from it and reasonably conclude that it probably applies more generally. So here is my "wish" list for education, which I think we should adopt as a baseline set of standards.

Before I give my list, I should like to say this. The first step in establishing a standard is to state what that standard is, and/or what it is not. Just because you may not know how to go about achieving it is certainly no reason not to state it. For example, in my classes I always had expectations in terms of acceptable behaviour. It would sometimes take me three months to achieve them, desoite teaching them every single day, but that's besides the point.

Here is my list:

1. All educators must achieve a basic level of technological capability.

2. People who do not meet the criterion of #1 should be embarrassed, not proud, to say so in public.

3. We should finally drop the myth of digital natives and digital immigrants. As I said in my blog, in the context of issuing guidance to parents about e-safety:

"I'm sorry, but I don't go for all this digital natives and immigrants stuff when it comes to this: I don't know anything about the internal combustion engine, but I know it's pretty dangerous to wander about on the road, so I've learnt to handle myself safely when I need to get from one side of the road to the other."

The phrase may have been useful to start with, but it's been over-used for a long time now. In any case, after immigrants have been in a country for a while, they become natives. We've had personal computers for 30 years, and I was using computers in my teaching back in 1975. How long does it take for someone to wake up to the fact that technology is part of life, not an add-on?

4. Headteachers and Principals who have staff who are technologically-illiterate should be held to account.

5. School inspectors who are technologically illiterate should be encouraged to find alternative employment.

6. Schools, Universities and Teacher training courses who turn out students who are technologically illiterate should have their right to a licence and/or funding questioned.

7. We should stop being so nice. After all, we've got our qualifications and jobs, and we don't have the moral right to sit placidly on the sidelines whilst some educators are potentially jeopardising the chances of our youngsters.