30 July 2013

Trickle Down Training


'Trickle Down Theory' is an economic idea which more or less states that decreasing taxes, can act as a stimulus. It's not popular. According to trickle-down theory proponents, this stimulus leads to growth and wealth creation that benefits everyone, not just those who pay the lower taxes—but what has this got to do with pedagogical technology?

Well it's my belief that a very similar approach is extremely effective (arguably more effective than the economic application) in terms of increasing the 'wealth' of tech expertise in a team of teachers, a wealth that benefits everyone, especially the students they teach.

How do we 'tax' our teachers tech skills? By having overly narrow definitions about what constitutes 'educational' technology. I believe we should encourage any sort of technological practice, yes even the sort that is likely to get you a slap on the wrist, yes Facebook, and online shopping I'm looking at you.

Tech needs to be personal

For teachers to implement changed pedagogies that integrate ICT, they must be at the centre of their own learning (Schibeci et al, 2008). Teachers benefit far more from informal, home based activities (Hustler et al, 2003), so when they (somewhat guiltily) request assistance with personal uses of ICT, they are often pleasantly surprised to learn that it is precisely this ‘self-centred’ use of ICT that can provide a synergistic, symbiotic ‘cascade effect’ or 'trickle down effect' on the development of their own ICT skills, such as for creating a home movie, or cropping an image to use for their social network profile. This kind of CPD, based on personal interests, takes account of how adults learn, and recognises the importance of individuals taking ownership over their own personalised learning journeys.

Trickle down in effect

This approach has proved to be particularly effective with the teachers I work with. For example one teacher repurposed ‘dabbling in stocks’ at home into a Maths activity where students used a stock App and spreadsheet to track and manage their virtual investments using an artificial currency.

Another teacher learned how to use online web albums (Picasa) for sharing photographs with her extended family—this in turn gave her the confidence and understanding of the technology to repurpose the same tool with her students to create online albums of their respective families in a unit they were doing on migration.

There are many more.

Sometimes the greatest barrier is the operating system itself, and the challenges with navigating and organising this effectively. Once (again purely for 'selfish' reasons) they start to make inroads in this they feel a great deal more confidence in using these tools with their students, in particular the use of email for managing communications with both students and parents, and more effective use of image libraries as teaching resources.

Perhaps the most profound, for many teachers, is the transfer of the video editing skills they acquired in the context of editing home videos, to embracing video editing as a powerful tool to use with their students.

Disempower Techphobia

This strategy has been the most effective with the teachers who are the most resistant. Let's take a teacher (hypothetical of course...) who has no interest whatsoever in using ICTs, never mind to teach with, give him a laptop and it will just languish in a desk drawer. Why? Simple; if he can't see any use for it, how could he see any use for it for his students?  It needs to be at the centre of his own experience. The Goose/Gander factor*, if he has coped all of his life, why can't they? The way in for this teacher was Facebook, he wanted to be able to stay in touch with his family, especially his two daughters—that was the key. Trickle down learning included:

  • Taking a digital photo
  • Cropping the photo
  • Resizing the Photo
  • Uploading the image to his Facebook page
  • Basic Keyboarding and navigation (Status Updates)

That was it, he was hooked. In the weeks that followed he was like a child with a new toy, making excited discoveries on a daily basis, JITT (Just in Time Training) was all he needed to keep him going, just 5 minutes here and there. Within a month he was:

  • Using iPhoto and Picasa to build a library of photographs (to share on Facebook)
  • Adding Captions
  • Organising his images into albums
  • Scanning his favourite images
  • Writing Personal Messages—which inspired him to get and use an email account 


He's already started asking about slideshows ... next step, video?


Instead of discouraging teachers from 'wasting' their time on Facebook—maybe we should be leveraging this as an opportunity for learning? 

It is my belief that these skills and technologies have a habit of 'going viral' technology is contagious, it's about time we harnessed this potential instead of complaining about it.



*What's good for the goose is good for the gander.