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