From #BectaX to #ukedchat: Virtual CPD for TeachersPosted by Alastair Horne on August 19, 2010
In March this year, I was lucky enough to be invited to one of the most interesting conferences I’ve ever attended: #BectaX. As its name would suggest, the event was organised by BECTA, a UK government agency that promoted the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning. This was one of its final acts before being shut down by the new government.
#BectaX brought 150 education professionals, policy formers and digital media experts from the UK to the Wellcome Collection in London to discuss how education might evolve in an increasingly connected world. To widen the conversation, and simultaneously demonstrate quite how connected the world has become, the conference also had a significant presence online. Discussions were filmed and streamed, with pupils from a number of schools linking up to the event via webcam and contributing their own comments both via Twitter and in an afternoon Q&A session.
A screen at the back of the stage displayed the twitterfeed for the event, with a monitor facing the speakers providing them with instant feedback on the session, and giving them a sense of the wider conversations going on around the conference. I’m sure we’ve all heard cautionary tales about the risks involved in making the back-channel public in this way, but on this occasion it most definitely added value to proceedings. The afternoon Q&A session was rapidly appended to the schedule in response to complaints from pupils that their voices weren’t being heard, while at least one presentation was rescued from being an ill-judged product pitch when the speaker realised quite how negative a response he was getting from his audience via the Twitter display.
After a morning of presentations, we returned from lunch to take part in a workshop. Pre-event publicity for #BectaX had raised five key questions to inform our understanding of how education and technology might interact in future. Delegates were divided into fifteen groups of ten and each group was allotted a question to consider. By the end of the session, each had to have produced a poster explaining their ideas, with the others voting on which was the best.
I found myself in a group discussing how technology might be used to create an environment in which teachers were encouraged and rewarded for continuous learning. After considering a number of tempting but implausibly idealistic possibilities, such as giving both teachers and pupils half a day each week to learn about anything that took their fancy, we finally fixed upon two key positives that already existed in the teaching community.
Teachmeets, those informal but organised meetings in which teachers share good practice, particularly with regard to using technology, were the first of our positives. The consensus around them, at least in our group, seemed to be that they were exceptionally useful, but that they’d be far more effective if better attended, since it was often those who would benefit most from ideas and assistance who were notable by their absence.
The other key positive was Twitter, and the way in which it too facilitated the sharing of best practice between teachers, by allowing them to swap ideas and links to useful tools quickly and publicly. Even more than teachmeets, though, Twitter tends to be the preserve of those already at least reasonably comfortable with new technologies.
This led us to probably our most realistic suggestion: that, as part of their teacher training, each newly-qualified teacher should be taught how to use Twitter, and given a list of tweeting teachers they might follow for advice and examples of best practice. New teachers would thus find themselves connected to good practitioners from the very start, while innovative teachers would have the opportunity to circulate their ideas beyond a sometimes small and already well-informed audience, in a kind of virtual teachmeet.
Though the closure of BECTA seems rather to have closed the door on #BectaX and its more ambitious ideas for improving education, this would seem to be one that could still be implemented easily and without much cost. For the moment, any UK teacher interested in learning from best practitioners would be well advised to get on Twitter between 8 and 9 on a Thursday evening, and search for “#ukedchat”.
From its debut in June this year as a more conveniently scheduled UK version of the popular worldwide #edchat discussion, #ukedchat has provided a forum for teachers to discuss subjects that matter to them. Each week, contributors choose a question for debate. Often these address the use of technology within the classroom, such as “How do we make the use of interactive whiteboards TRULY interactive?”, or “How can we use collaboration tools to get kids to learn from and about each other?” Then, over the course of an hour, teachers talk around the question, sharing best practice as they go, in what has been described by one participant as “Formula 1 CPD”. Anyone can contribute, and each week more than 100 teachers and other education professionals do so.
In addition to providing advice and examples of good practice, #ukedchat can also serve as a rapid introduction to some of the most interesting education twitterers around. An hour spent in the company of these practitioners will give the novice a great many ideas as to whom they might follow for regular suggestions and advice.
The wider community that is developing around #ukedchat is also impressive. Each week’s discussions are archived for those who’ve missed the discussion, or want to follow it at their own pace. (And with recent sessions producing more than 700 tweets, this may be an increasingly popular option.) Summaries are also posted on the #ukedchat blog, highlighting the most interesting tweets and links from previous sessions.
All in all, #ukedchat is an invaluable resource for the teacher looking for ways to develop their skills, particularly in the area of new technologies. With the demise of BECTA, and further cuts in education spending announced seemingly weekly, free teacher-led initiatives like this are going to become increasingly important.