Twitter can be a dangerous world. Be careful out there…

I think that Twitter is brilliant. I mean, it’s not perfect, but for teachers it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities to share creative, practical ideas, to discuss pedagogy in critical dialogue, to encourage reflection of our own practice and that of others, and to develop networks of like-minded professionals who have the improvement of teaching practice – and therefore student outcomes – at the core of all that they do.

However, Martha and I were at the Teacher Researcher Conference at the University of Sussex on Saturday and, amongst presentations of fascinating research and much lively discussion, one comment caught our attention: many teachers are now formulating their teaching approaches from Twitter and blogs, and this is dangerous due to the unaccountability of what they are reading. This got me thinking about the direction that the delivery of pedagogy is taking and of the hazards, but also clear benefits, of the rise of Twitter and the teaching blogosphere.

I agree that there are some risks to the fact that any teacher, regardless of experience or ability, can proffer advice – often seemingly definitive – to the teaching world at large. Our blog, amongst many of others, does it with regularity (although I hope we show enough humility so as not to appear dogmatic or definitive). As a History teacher, I am acutely aware of the inherent dangers of sources with unreliable provenance and the teaching community at large must show the same discretion. Blogs are, by their very nature, personal opinions which may, or may not, be accurate or rooted in evidence. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many great teaching strategies and ideas haven’t yet been subjected to objective research methods and analysis. Indeed, many simple classroom ideas don’t warrant such detailed research and even the most thoroughly evidenced approaches are subject to scrutiny and conflicting views. Furthermore, I’m sure we have all tried using critically accepted approaches to teaching and found that for our teaching style or with specific classes that they don’t work. However, it is hard to separate the good advice from the bad, especially when there is such an overwhelming range of often conflicting opinions being put forward. So what can we, as individuals and a community, do about this?

I’m afraid I don’t have a clear answer, but allow me to share some tentative thoughts. Evidence-based practice is undeniably important – indeed it is the bedrock of our personal approach to teaching – and it would be remiss of any teacher to not consider whether their teaching strategies reflect what has been evidenced to make the most impact. Yet this doesn’t really help us in the world of Twitter, where so many new, creative or challenging ideas are put forward which haven’t yet been subjected to the rigours of research. I don’t think we should avoid reading or trusting personal opinions, or only follow advice that is rooted in research, but that we must be critical of all that we read, whilst also having an open mind. I am aware that this sounds like an oxymoron and perhaps to an extent it is, but it is what we must do to both teach in the ‘best’ possible way, whilst also continuing to learn and develop our practice. We must consider whether we believe the advice we are reading to be accurate, if it matches our own thoughts and experiences, whilst also be willing to have our views challenged. We must consider typicality and whether the idea put forward has been backed up by other sources or goes against the grain, whilst not dismissing alternative views out of hand. We should consider if the advice is evidenced or not. It doesn’t have to be, but we then need to be aware that as an opinion it has its own attached weaknesses, whilst also not in any way necessarily being wrong because of this.

As I said earlier, I’m not sure what the answer is. Perhaps the frequency and sheer amount of blogs being posted is so overwhelmingly large that there is no panacea. There is, however, one thing that we can all do: be reflective of our own teaching practice. Whilst being willing to listen to and try out a range of strategies and ideas, you must also consider what is working in your classroom and for your students. This is something in your control, negating the provenance of the pedagogical input you receive. If you try something out and, upon reflection, you feel it has improved the progress your students are making, then keep doing it (and keep reflecting upon it). Likewise, if upon reflection the impact has been small or even negative, then don’t feel you have to keep following this approach. Or perhaps consider adapting or tweaking it. Or try it with another class. Classrooms are so diverse, that what works for you may not for someone else, and vice versa. This is what makes teaching such a stimulating and challenging profession to be in. The key is to keep reflecting upon what is or isn’t working for you. This, I believe, is what may make it possible to approach the range of ideas and strategies out there with a degree of confidence.

The world of Twitter is a dangerous one, but approaching its offerings with a degree of care and a reflective mindset should help to keep you safe.

Ben Wright

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Evidence based practice, why are we so bothered?

With myself and Emily currently completing our Master’s in Education and Ben having already completed his, our research is often at the forefront of our minds.  As an advocate for evidence based practice I have found I have focused much of my writing around this topic.

About 18 months ago I read an article by Ben Goldacre ‘Building Evidence into Education’. Goldacre raised a very valid point, professions such as medicine, nursing and midwifery see evidence as integral in providing the best outcomes for their patients as well as continuing CPD. Not only is this argument both popular but academic as well. Therefore why are we, professional teachers, not engaging with this practice and using evidence to improve the outcome of our pupils?

So, what exactly is evidence based practice?

Evidence based practice is using current literature and the available evidence to make decisions about our teaching practice and to inform policy making. Obviously evidence can take different forms and evidence used in the medical profession will be different to that used in education, but applying the principle of sourcing evidence, evaluating it, applying it and using it to further inform practice is something the teaching profession should be looking to achieve. In short, teachers should be using the literature that is out there and applying it to their own classroom practices and then evaluating the effect.

How did this impact my Master’s research?

Ben, Emily and I set up a journal club to encourage colleagues to engage with current literature. The club runs every half term and we discuss the latest research article, provided by ourselves, and how this can impact on our teaching. We often focus on a research questions and critically analyse this as a group of professionals.

As part of my Master’s research I decided to analyse the impact journal club has as a mechanism for teachers to engage with evidence based practice. From my findings there was an overwhelming agreement from staff that they felt education should be evidence based and that journal club could have a positive impact on engagement, however many teachers do not attend. I also identified that teachers see the value evidence has for the development of their practice and engagement was talked about as being ‘forward thinking’. This frustrated me somewhat as although the teaching body wanted to move the profession forward to engage with evidence based practice, there are clear barriers in place which leaves teachers unable to engage. What these barriers are I am currently researching as part of my dissertation. I hope to disseminate these barriers and discover how we can work towards this culture in time for the next academic year.

Martha Boyne

References:

 

Biesta. G. (2007) ‘Why ‘What Works’ Won’t Work: Evidence Based Practice and the Democratic Deficit in Educational Research’. Educational Theory 57:1

Boyne, M. and Beadle, H. (in press).  Journal Club: A mechanism for bringing evidence based practice into school. Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Journal, [forthcoming].

Goldacre.B. (2013) Building Evidence into Education. Department for Education

can be accessed here:

http://www.badscience.net/2013/03/heres-my-paper-on-evidence-and-teaching-for-the-education-minister/