Thoughts from the Westminster Education Forum

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It was fascinating to attend and speak on a panel on the latest thinking on digital technologies and innovative teaching practices in the classroom at the Westminster Education Forum in Whitehall this week. An audience of current and ex-ministers and their representatives as well as delegates from SFA and many schools and colleges and work- and community-based providers from all around the country discussed use of technology in learning.

The one thing that struck me most was the disconnect between some of those who spoke about their experiences at the ‘cutting edge’ – for example with virtual and augmented reality, digital badges and robotics programming – and those, like me, who represented ‘coal face’ teachers and lecturers who are both time- and resource-poor.

It was good to hear acknowledgement from Lord Knight and Ty Goddard, Chair of Edtech UK, that we need to ‘talk with educators, not at them to encourage further and more innovative use of technology in all classrooms. When hearing about amazing innovations it’s often easy to forget how many teachers, certainly in Further and Adult and Community Education, have limited access to technology and few opportunities to develop their skills in its use.

Learners and employers are demanding that we use technology in learning as freely as they do for work and leisure. Teachers must be enabled to make informed choices about how to integrate it in a coherent way into their existing practice. I was able to showcase the work of the Blended Learning Consortium at Heart of Worcestershire and join Bob Harrison in promoting the excellent teacher CPD available via the FutureLearn ‘Blended Learning Essentials’ mooc. These are both powerful ways of enabling organisations and their staff to develop digital literacy and leverage technology in learning.

The real issue for me is that employers must invest in their staff to give them the time and space to grow their skills and work with their learners to make the technology their own and not just an unwelcome ‘extra’ that is visited upon then. Developers also need to work with teachers more closely when creating new products and services to allow end-users to inform the direction of the growth and feel they have a stake in the innovation.

Only informed and engaged teachers can use technology effectively and only then will we be able to work to develop the skills of our peers and learners. This is why CPD events such as the ETF/WMCETT Professional Exchange are so important to spark dialogues and to form learning networks for teachers. It’s also great to see a growing online and social media presence through groups such as Tutor Voices and formation of collaborative design spaces such as the Learning Wheel.

We are seeing much more evidence of teachers finding their voice and taking a lead in technology use for their own development as well as that of their learners.What have you done this year to grow your digital skills and develop those of your team?

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