Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Social media in teaching and professional development

This blogpost is part of a MindLab assignment, looking into the use of social media within teaching and professional development in education.

My initial view of social media as it pertained to teaching and professional development (as of when I started my secondary teaching career, just on 5 years ago now) was that social media was just that - social, and I didn't originally see the possibilities and opportunities.

Since that time, my use of twitter, blogger and facebook groups has grown extensively; and including categories mentioned by the NZ education council (shown below in the image) - I have also used social media for collaboration (edmodo, prezi, google drive), networking (facebook, linkedin, google+), image sharing (pintrest), video sharing (youtube), micro-blogging (twitter) and blogging (blogger).


The platforms that I find I use most often are:

Google drive: partly because HPSS uses this as its primary, ubiquitous platform for both teachers and students, but also because I now don't know how I could survive not having access to a plethora of documents from all aspects of my teaching, and others teaching, as well as admin documentation, all at the end of the internet.

Twitter: a great way to connect with other educators within NZ and overseas - in particular the regular 'chats' such as #edchatnz and #scichatnz provide a great way of connecting to other educators as well as a platform to be challenged on issues within education that may not come up from our usual professional circles.

Facebook - private groups: in particular the 'science teachers of NZ' group, amongst others. This also provides a (more private than twitter) way of connecting with a larger circle of educators, who come from a variety of backgrounds.

The education council states: "social media can be an effective tool for engaging with learners and communicating with parents, whanau and communities. Teachers who model good social media use will grow learners who apply positive, respectful values in their interactions on social media platforms."

Supporting this, there are many 'how to' guides out there for teachers, pointing out both positive and negative aspects of social media:

My perspective:

Overall, I feel that these are the positives associated with social media use. 

  • Collaboration: both between teachers, and with students - platforms such as edmodo, google+ and twitter provide instant feedback in both directions between students and teachers, and can allow students to contribute their own resources to a class etc.
  • You don't know what you don't know: exposure to ideas, strategies and people outside of my usual teaching bubble - allowing me to expand the way I teach. This has mostly happened through use of twitter and private facebook groups.
  • Modelling social media: letting students see explicitly how social media can be used responsibly, and trying to get them to do the same.(This does take time and multiple exposures to it, however!)

The potential negatives or pitfalls:

  • Over-connectedness: Making sure that teachers do in fact get some down time away from their careers. This is especially important as teachers already take plenty of work home with them - it's important to make sure they are not connected to these social networks all the time, as this can contribute to burn-out.
  • Risk of sharing: being careful about what is shared in public forms by both teachers and students; making it very clear what is and isn't acceptable.
  • Echo-chamber: sometimes, after prolonged use of the same social media platforms, such as twitter, it becomes apparent that the same ideas are circulating over and over, just with new people attached to the ideas. It is important to remember that there is a very select group of people (who self-select to use twitter, and therefore often share fairly similar points of view).

How to balance these?

I believe that balance itself is the answer - using these platforms and tools in a sensible way, where teachers feel that they are gaining benefit from using social media, but don't feel obligated to be constantly using it. In other words, making social media work for the teacher and students, rather than feeling like you are putting more effort into social media. The use of it should fall out naturally from practice, not be something forced (although obviously for teachers less experienced in social media use, this will take effort and time to achieve!)

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Contemporary trends and issues influencing education

This blogpost is part of a Mindlab assignment, relating to the evaluation of contemporary trends or issues that are influencing and/or shaping education.

Part 1: The future is unpredictable

It is likely that many of the career paths we value today may not actually exist within the lifetimes of the students we are teaching. Reports state that many of the jobs that occupy us today will be obsolete even within 10 years:
"Almost any job that can be described as a “process” could be done by a computer, whether that computer is housed in a robot or embedded somewhere out of sight.
So if intelligent machines can take over many of the jobs of today, what can you do to ensure your job prospects in the future?" (Washington Post)
So how do we prepare our students for career paths and jobs that do not actually exist? Futurists such as Thomas Frey have stated that looking at skillsets that will be of use in the future provides us with opportunities:

The interesting take on these skills is that they are interdisciplinary, transferrable skills or capabilities that will allow our current day students to become experts in their fields, rather than training them to leave educational facilities already experts. Many of the skills listed above also lend themselves towards a mindset as opposed to being standalone skills in their own right.
I feel that at HPSS, we are supporting the development of student capabilities for the future in several ways: Blending learning areas together, to allow for the visible and explicit transfer of skills that are traditionally silo'd into their respective learning areas; giving students the opportunity to bring skills and knowledge together to find and solve problems through Big Projects and now Impact Projects with our Year 11 students; and emphasising the importance of a dispositional curriculum that underpins so much of what we do.
Other relevant sites: 

Part 2: Changing the paradigm from standardisation

In a 2010 talk, the brilliant Sir Ken Robinson talks about moving away from the idea of standardisation, and standardised testing in particular:

The aspect of this that appeals to me most is the idea of divergent thinking - the concept that rather than having one set answer to a given problem, or one way of thinking about things, there are instead a multitude of ways of approaching issues and questions, and using creative thinking to provide possible solutions. 
(Screenshot from Ken Robinson's talk)

Strategies that can promote divergent thinking are detailed well at this site and include such things as deferring judgement - so generating ideas without immediately dismissing them; brainstorming both individually and in groups - as a way of not limiting the potential answers to just one response; combining ideas - using ideas from others and building on them.
"Divergent behavior is discouraged in school when students are scared to say or do the "wrong thing" in class. This is not surprising since schools often tolerate environments in which both teachers and peer groups keep in-check those who say and do things that are off-script, incorrect or inappropriate. This system of overt-convergence is enforced by a grading culture that systematically penalizes students for being "wrong," and by allowing a school environment in which students tease those who exhibit non-normative behaviors. So, if divergent thinking is key to being creative, it becomes clear why our students find being open with their imaginations and divergent ideas inhibited." (Edutopia link)

Although there are certain restrictions in science, especially as pertains to NCEA external achievement standards, there is certainly a strong correlation between divergent thinking and the nature of science, where ideas are built upon, and alternative methods and approaches are tested without judgement.

I do believe that I encourage this type of thinking, and in the combining of learning areas such as social science with science, or visual arts with science (as I am teaching this semester), you gain the benefit of having different ways of approaching problems and thinking outside of the usual silo'd learning area toolset.