Are teachers on Twitter living in a echo chamber/filter bubble?

The Oxford Dictionary gives the definition of an echo chamber as “An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered“. Similarly, the Oxford Dictionary defines a filter bubble as “A situation in which an Internet user encounters only information and opinions that conform to and reinforce their own beliefs, caused by algorithms that personalize an individual’s online experience.

These terms are increasingly used interchangeably since both have similar meanings. Many teachers on social media tend to fit into established cliques, self-selected because they have similar viewpoints. Twitter and social media will recommend that you follow new people similar to the people you already follow. When you search on Google it will return results that are personalised for you based on what it knows about you.

Since I left teaching I’ve come to rely on connections that I’ve made, although I hope the projects I’m working on now are based on what I know as well as who I know. As I’ve stepped back from the classroom I’ve paid more attention to what happens on social media and who talks to who. When I’ve been out and about at conferences I’ve looked at who knows each other offline, and at how often these relationships continue online.

Some of these teachers meet up at conferences and Saturday events and cement these relationships and viewpoints.  This isn’t a criticism of either people or their networks but it makes me question if we (myself included) might be missing out on a wider range of viewpoints because of this.

This weekend I was reading the introduction to a recently published education-related book in which the author thanked some colleagues who had contributed advice. Of course, these colleagues were part of a wider network on social media.

So does this matter?

I try to follow most people back on Twitter (apart from those who follow only to boost their follower numbers or their sales)  and I enjoy reading a range of viewpoints. I wonder if having a following of teachers, most of whom teach the same subject and to the same age range of learners, means that I’m limiting my own exposure to alternative viewpoints and ideas.  I’ve started following teachers from other subject areas and phases to see how this changes the ideas in my Twitter feed and in turn my own ideas.

I’ll keep you posted!

The new BTEC level 1 Applied Science – is it for your school?

The team at Pearson have been busy updating and promoting their new level 1 BTEC qualifications. This follows a move to the new assessment framework in line with other BTECs but is it a good qualification to use with your lower attaining students in the same way its predecessor was?

I’ve sat through webinars and read the material on the website  – I hope I’ve not got the wrong end of the stick! I’ve focused on the appropriateness and relevance to students in a school setting – I don’t know enough about FE to comment.

So what’s changed for the better?

  • Differentiation – now three levels of pass so is likely to appeal to a wider range of learners.
  • The focus of the qualification now makes it more suited for students who have completed ELC or GCSE (In my last school we didn’t offer science to P16 due to the lack of a suitable qualification)
  • More of a focus on practical skills (and it’s still 100% internal assessment)

Barriers to adoption by a school

  • The new assessment regime makes this qualification less suited to students with SEN than the old version. There is an expectation that students are working more independently and there will be less scaffolding than allowed under the original level 1 BTEC. That poses serious barriers to many level 1 learners. In line with the revised level 2 BTECS, feedback is different and Pearson states “Feedback from the initial work should tell the learner WHAT is missing but not HOW to achieve it”.  There is a special retake process but this can only lead to a pass grade.
  • The qualification still doesn’t carry performance measures or count towards progress 8. In this situation, you have to stop and ask yourself what qualification is most appropriate to my learners? If they are unlikely to pass GCSE Science or on the border-line of a pass, this qualification is unlikely to be for them.
  • For KS4 learners, ELC is co-teachable with GCSE whereas this qualification would not be. The new L1 BTEC would be best taught to a discrete group, most likely at KS5 (and not many schools offer a P16 pathway that isn’t A-level)
  • There is overlap but not coverage of the GCSE specification content. This qualification was not written to be a GCSE replacement but an alternative qualification for students aged 14 and over.
  • Although a level 1 qualification, some of the tasks are quite challenging and require a different teaching approach to ELC and GCSE

So where does this leave the qualification?

Whilst interesting, this is a niche qualification that most secondary schools will skip past for the reasons detailed above. If this qualification interests you and you would like to find out more, the link to the  BTEC L1 page is here.

Saturday CPD – a wonder for busy teachers or a millstone around their necks?

Rhetoric Program Flexible Learning Classroom

I read with interest today a blog post written by Debra Kidd announcing that the forthcoming Northern Rocks event will probably be the last.  For those who haven’t attended one before, Northern Rocks is one of many teacher organised CPD events on a Saturday (with excellent feedback).

Debra makes some interesting points in her blog post, concerned that teachers could be worried about missing out and in doing so, increasing their own workloads. That got me thinking as, through my role as regional secretary for the ASE, that I could be part of the problem as we organise CPD on a Saturday too.

So why do we organise CPD on a Saturday? We organise it because people come. It’s because teachers are finding it increasingly hard (and I don’t recall a time it ever was easy…) to get out of school on a weekday. Many schools restrict CPD, only paying for CPD that has direct links to the school development plan.  Teachers have fought back by organising their own events on a Saturday, where time is given freely and costs to be covered are minimal. As an ASE member, I give up my time to organise CPD and sometimes to present as well. We try to restrict our events to half a day because we know a full day is a  huge commitment.

Comments I read today on Twitter are making me question my stance on Saturday CPD.  I hope Kristy doesn’t mind me stealing her tweet to quote here, but her comment struck a chord and made me reflect on how I feel about Saturday CPD.

I used to work long hours on school days (even Fridays) and I spent my Sundays planning lessons on top. I was reluctant to attend many CPD or education related events because a Saturday was my only day off, the only day I got to spend with my family and most importantly my only time to stop and recharge.

Are we, as Kristy suggests, creating a two-tier culture within education – those who have time (not by choice) for CPD and those who do not? If that is the case, how far does this division go? Could it potentially affect recruitment (for example as part of a selection process) or could it influence pay decisions?

Are we creating an underclass of teachers, who through no fault of their own, are being denied CPD as the expectation shifts to one where teachers are expected to attend CPD in their own time?

CPD should be a core entitlement of any profession. It’s so important that schools have five days set aside for CPD so when did expectations change?

Perhaps I exist in a bubble. Many of the Saturday CPD events are publicised on social media, and the presenters and attendees occupy the same bubble (which anecdotal estimates put at 3-5% of teachers). Perhaps most teachers are oblivious to these events and so don’t feel they are missing out?

I hadn’t worried too much about this in the past as our regional science CPD events typically pull in under 100 delegates. There were relatively few Saturday CPD events in my area but as I’ve spent more time researching I’ve found more and more on offer on a Saturday with teacher-led conferences, subject association led CPD and even trade shows like the BETT show and the Education Show at the NEC. I do worry that we could be approaching a point of no return and that Saturday CPD could become the norm rather than a personal preference.

Update: Since I wrote this article it occurred to me that this issue goes further than Saturday CPD.  I’ve seen more and more books published for teachers – books on how to teach, manage behaviour, differentiate and so on. Books written for teachers, often by teachers or ex-teachers. What they all have in common is a price tag (£15 seems to be the average price) that could prevent teachers with a limited budget from buying them. These books are shared on Twitter, teachers who have read them are quick to say so and there quickly starts another missing-out culture.  Since Christmas I’ve seen perhaps a dozen books that I would like to read which amounts to nearly £200 in value (and I haven’t even considered the time it would take to read them all!) Sadly I’ve had to say no to most of them, and I do wonder what I’m missing out on. Were I at the start of my career I might have felt under more pressure to part with my hard-earned cash.  I know some schools have a CPD library – is that a solution or will that reduce sales to the point that authors don’t see a return on the time they invest in writing?

Image © lhammersmith

Should I renew my membership of the Chartered College of Teaching?

Coin Toss
Like many others that I mix with online and offline,  I am already an active member of a subject association and a member of many other education networks. I like to think that I’m fairly well informed about key issues in education.

Through the Association of Science Education I get subject-specific advice, access to regional and national CPD conferences at reduced rates, I get access to a network of science teachers, I get my Chartered Science Teacher status, I get two science-related magazines and I even get my professional insurance.  This is my benchmark of a professional organisation.

When I joined the Chartered College last year I saw it as taking a punt. I didn’t know what I was going to get but it was only £29 for me to join, so I signed up and became a founding member.

Time flies and a year later I find myself being asked to renew (although the price has crept up to £45, 65% more than I paid last time). I reflected on how much I’ve used my membership (it’s why I’m still a member of the National Trust, I visit their properties and car parks enough to justify the membership fee).

So how have I gained (or not) personally by being a member of the Chartered College?

  • I have received two (?) journals over the last twelve months
  • I’ve received a lapel badge and a notepad with the Chartered College logo on.
  • I once downloaded some of the summary materials from the University of Bristol (although this isn’t listed as a membership benefit any longer)
  • I’ve twice accessed the research database, once to write a blog post and once to research a presentation proposal.
  • I didn’t go to the annual conference – I couldn’t justify the cost plus the train ticket (more than the conference fee) to attend
  • I am already a Chartered Teacher at a fraction of the cost – I don’t see the recognition through the Science Council as being any less meaningful
  • I have only just discovered my ex-MAT is on the list of CCT founding networks…

Since I joined last time, my career path has taken a sudden and unexpected detour from the chalk face and although I’ve got more time to make use of the benefits they still haven’t been that useful. I love the Chartered College and all it stands for but in times when money is getting increasingly tighter for all in the profession, I join others in having to consider this purchase carefully before I make it.

Is your membership up for renewal? What decision have you made? How did you make your decision? Should I stay or should I go?

Image ©ICMA Photos

The rise of the identikit school is not good for learners with SEND

potatohead
It had been a long time since I visited the city where I went to university. In my memories the streets were vibrant and I remembered lots of small independent shops where everyone skipped around smiling (ok so I may have exaggerated this last one…)

I recently got the opportunity to revisit (after over fifteen years) and expected things to be just as they had been in my memories. Of course, my rose-tinted glasses now have ordinary glass in and I saw things how they are at present. It’s a sad reflection on our society that one city centre looks much like another, with most of the shops belonging to large chains and the only differences between towns and cities is how the same shops are arranged.

The same thing is happening to our schools and the government is embracing it as a positive thing. With the expansion of local multi-academy trusts (MATs) the same trustees/directors/governors may control most of the schools in a given area, and depending on the scheme of delegation, the schools could end up being extremely similar

On first appearances this may seem extremely positive with similar branding, sharing of good practice and a similar ethos. Naturally, these similarities extend to the treatment of students with special needs and schools tend to apply the same policies that have ‘worked’ elsewhere. For us, that meant a constant stream of referrals coming from schools that wanted rid of their special needs students. It got to the point where we could read the referral and guess the academy chain the student had attended previously.

With the schools in a given area being under the control of a relatively small number of MATs, and with the government’s desire to see the growth and expansion of existing MATs, there is less and less room for individuality between local schools.

Where does this leave learners with special needs who don’t fit the mould? I’m sure many of these schools would like to brand themselves as inclusive but they are unable and unwilling to cater for all but the least severe of needs.  The future of inclusion could be at risk and start to take a very different direction over the coming years and the government and local authorities seem powerless to do anything about it.

Have you seen similar in your school (mainstream or special)? Do you worry about the future of inclusion? Leave a comment below.

 

Image © Keith Hall