Thursday, 29 September 2011

Digital Scholarship

In the early hours of this morning I attended an online session with Martin Weller on Digital Scholarship. At first it seemed to apply more to research in academia but on reflection and as I have worked through the follow-up material I have come to see application in my own area of secondary education.
The idea of sharing openly between teachers is anathema to many in my profession. Young staff often find it difficult to gain access to teaching senior classes and when they do, often as a result of "death or retirement" (Terry Anderson, Alt-C 2009 Keynote), the knowledge has not been passed on to them. I have heard teachers say that if a younger teacher wants to teach at senior level they should look for a new school. I think that the reasons for not sharing at the secondary level are different from those in research but the need for openness is just as important.
So why don't teachers share? I'm sure there are many reasons but four stand out.
  1. The expectation of reciprocity. Few teachers - there are some wonderful exceptions - are willing to give if there is no expectation of getting back. Anderson's keynote talks about Networks of Practice which have "Little expectation of reciprocity" as a key feature. Developing a culture of altruism amongst teachers would not be an easy task.
  2. The fear of peer review. I hear staff comment that they are reluctant to contribute work to online forums as they believe their work will be belittled by their peers. There is certainly a culture on the web of commenting on others without maintaining a proper etiquette. The lack of respect seen in discussion forums can be very disheartening as some contributors feel that the anonymity of the Internet gives them some sort of divine right to be extremely negative and insulting.
  3. Lack of example. Anderson used the work of missionaries going out and converting by walking the walk as an example of how he believes change will come about. I whole-heartily agree but it is difficult in a secondary school environment where the closed-door of a classroom precludes others seeing good pedagogy and little expectation of disseminating ideas widely retards communication.
  4. Lack of time. To share requires an investment of time which for most teachers is in short supply. Whilst it is easy to say that the initial investment will pay dividends in the long run, many teachers are reluctant to take the risk.

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