Stirring teachers to stir their learners – my St Petersburg UNESCO presentation

UNESCO supports a network of university chairs in ICT and learning across the world coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Information  Technology in Education.  .

These academics and educationalists come together once a year to share practice and results of research. I was delighted to be invited to make a contribution to this year’s conference held in St Petersburg.    

Man with beard and glasses in front of UNESCO banner

Amid plenty of talk about strategy and policy, I set out the vital role played by front line teaching staff in ensuring that learners of all ages experience the full benefits that effective use of technology can bring to teaching and learning.  (A theme I may have used before!)

I argued that changes in practice will be driven as much by teachers’ attitudes as it will by their access to technical skills.

I thought it was relevant to consider the 2013 work of the Oxford Internet Institute  where they identified 5 different ‘cultures’ amongst internet users. They ranged from the e-mersives at one end of a spectrum to a-digitals who are inclined to view the digital world with huge suspicion.

POINT 1 We should take account of existing teacher attitudes when we plan their training.

I then drew on three separate case studies of technology adoption.

NIACE E Guides programme (UK) with ‘change agents’ equiped with skills and laptops  to cascade training.

Virginian Central school system (USA) where Dr Elizabeth Langran had conducted research info effective leadership. This key finding is pivotal:

It is not enough for leaders to model risk-taking, but they must also let teachers know that there is enough support available to them to catch them when they fall.

Lycee in Cantal (France)

Florence Mesnil offered  her perspective on adoption of technology in teaching. She cited a very effective ‘bottom’up’ approach where teachers took an initiative themselves to research use of interactive whiteboards and to make a proposal for investment in the local school system.  The proposal was accepted and the deployment successful. In contrast, she cited an example of ‘top down’ deployment of PDF electronic text books. This is very much an example of ‘sustaining’  rather than disruptive technologies – just doing the same thing but with text on screen rather than on paper.   Surprise, surprise people can’t see the point of this!

Florence is one of many inspired and innovative teachers and there really is a message here (which links with Elizabeth’s point)  – trust the guys on the ground!

We talked a lot about user-generated content and I just had to end with tht fabulou short video made by two on my French students. David and Ian illustrated the verbs which take etre in past tense. It was hilarious – merci les gars!






2 Responses to “Stirring teachers to stir their learners – my St Petersburg UNESCO presentation”

  1. Terry Loane Says:

    I agree, Alastair, that we should ‘trust the guys on the ground’ and support them in risk-taking, and that bottom-up approaches are usually the most effective in implementing successful change. But if we are to have any chance of implementing such things we need to start by acknowledging just how radical your suggestions are and how they run counter to the prevailing ‘top-down’ mode of managing both individual schools and the national education system. (I should perhaps add at this point that I am referring to the situation in the UK – your post is written in a UNESCO context so maybe ‘bottom-upism’ is thriving elsewhere in the world.) What I have seen throughout my 43 years experiences as an educator in England is a gradual yet sustained erosion of the ability of those on the ground to take risk and to use their professional judgement. The imposition of a national curriculum; the fetishising of OFSTED inspection; management by league tables; and micro-management by Secretaries of State for Education have all served to quash the initiative, creativity and professional discretion of the teacher on the ground (not to mention the student on the ground). We now have a system that is based on the bizarre assumption that the people at every level of the hierarchy know better than those at the level below and that those at the very top know best of all.

    But what better day than the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre to remind ourselves that those at the top of the hierarchy do not know best.

  2. St Petersburg by bike | Spoke person Says:

    […] 3 full days in St Petersburg at a UNESCO ICT conference  I found an afternoon to cycle the city using a hired bike with slightly wobbly back wheel. Two of […]

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