Video Conferencing in Education

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in ICT, International Education, Learning & Teaching, video conferencing | Posted on November 28, 2011

In Dumfries & Galloway Council, South West Scotland, we’ve been using video conferencing in primary and secondary schools to provide a range of educational opportunities for students and teachers. Since 2005, when we installed video conference kit in 5 schools, we’ve developed the use of the technology to support schools in outlying rural areas. The manufacturer of this equipment, Polycom, asked me in August 2011 to share our experience of using video conferencing in schools. Don’t watch alone.

What makes a good teacher?

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Leadership for Learning, Learning & Teaching | Posted on November 28, 2011

It’s a simple question. What makes a good teacher?

Education policy-makers around the world have yet to provide an answer to this most simple of questions.

Most of us went to school, even me. Our view of what makes a good teacher tends to come from our own very personal experiences from having spent around 12 of our formative years in the education system. I can remember some ‘good’ teachers I enjoyed being in the class with and others that I just didn’t. At the age of 5, I loved my very first teacher. Miss Crawford read to our class stories by Enid Blyton. I can still remember eagerly anticipating each short installment of ‘The Castle of Adventure’. It was fun, exciting, stimulating and engaging. I’m fairly sure that the experience of having these stories read to me led to an early interest in reading.

My Physics teacher, Mr Stewart at Eastwood High School, was great. He told stories. Mr Stewart translated physics into real life scenarios. He asked for volunteers to attach tickertape to themselves and jump off the top of the school so that we could measure the velocity and distance travelled of a free falling object. He told us he had on his mantlepiece a sign saying  Ω SWEET Ω. (Ohm Sweet Ohm). Okay, not that funny, perhaps you had to be there, but 40 years on I can still remember that electrical resistance is measured in Ω ohms. He made lessons something to be looked forward to and fun. Even topics such as the refractive index of water were delivered in an interesting and engaging way. The refractive index of water is 1.33, meaning that in a vacuum, light travels 1.33 times as fast as it does in water. I still find that fascinating, and it’s all down to Mr Stewart. He made learning engaging and fun.

It has long been thought that teachers with the highest academic qualifications are not automatically the best teachers in the classroom. Some schools however (across the world), still appoint teachers to posts primarily on the merit of their academic qualifications.

So what makes a good teacher? Is it attitudinal? An aptitude and empathy for working with young people? Subject knowledge? A vocation? Bits of all of these? If the member of staff is willing to take the under-13s rugby team on a Saturday, does that make them a good, ‘committed’ teacher?

I remember Professor Brian Boyd (formerly Strathclyde University) years ago saying ‘education was a messy business’. There’s no one right way of doing it, no template to follow. However I strongly believe that one of the best ways of developing skills as a teacher is to watch others in action. Schools are now recognising the benefits of peer observation and ‘professional dialogue’ amongst staff. In many schools, there are hundreds of collective years of teaching experience available to be shared.

Evidence from research around the world is showing that good quality teaching and learning comes when we have the greatest autonomy for the teacher and the learner. Good teachers should be given more trust to get on with what they think their students need. Good teachers will usually have excellent working relationships with pupils gained through their ability to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and fairness in the classroom. It sounds like stating the obvious, but a good teacher must be able to explain things clearly. We all remember teachers that took time to explain things in plain English, and others who said it once and moved on too quickly. A good teacher will provide variety in their class, variety in routine, in style of teaching and in content. A good teacher will usually display a sense of humour to more effectively engage the class.

In England, (the place most of the world thinks is the UK) it was the politicians’ loss of confidence in child-centred learning that led to the creation of the national curriculum and, with it, a system of national testing to handcuff teachers to a framework of required knowledge.

We now expect teachers to develop the ability to reflect on his or her own performance and then to change it. They need to develop their own judgment of what works and what does not work in their own teaching. A good teacher will devise his or her own way of teaching and engaging students and, working collegially, evaluate and adapt their own teaching methods.

Why would they do this? To provide an excellent education for all our young people who deserve top quality learning experiences and outcomes.

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