An email message came round to the National Teaching Fellow (NTF) email list inviting us to write a blog article for BERA and I jumped at the chance. The invitation hit me at the right moment and I’d just been thinking how the education sector is becoming disconnected these days and why?
the wise use of social media has tremendous advantages, but I do think digital connections are not enough
It seems ironic that we have educational approaches including ‘connectivism’ based around the ability to effortlessly connect to learners. We have social media to connect through whatever our preferences might be from sound, video, images, hanging out or via a Tweet. Of course the wise use of social media has tremendous advantages, but I do think digital connections are not enough. In recent years the education sector has stopped connecting, and I think one of the drivers is the almost complete removal of any research funding from the Higher Education Academy and Jisc. This is not a blog article about to cast blame, but I am concerned about both the lasting impact of this.
The Higher Education Academy (HEA) encouraged the sharing of best practice through 24 Subject Centres which were closed in 2012; they have now been replaced by four broad discipline clusters today. The subject centres shared good practice, funded teaching-enhancement projects and drove innovation. As a new lecturer in 2007 I entirely relied upon my ‘Bioscience’ network to gain insight into the pedagogic practices of my subject, and it enabled me to transition from being a researcher in my subject discipline to developing an interest in science education practice.
As another example, Jisc was the primary investor in learning technology innovation, and their ethos to running projects was always very much based around building a community. The HEFCE-funded Open Educational Resource Programme (2009-2012) that Jisc led with the HEA held regular networking events and encouraged individuals to ‘buddy up’. The lasting impact of this programme is a community of open educators that still thrives today.
What might the long-term implications be?
Informal, face-to-face conversations are vital for innovation. If educators do not connect, we will not be responsive to other sector changes as they materialise. We are presently facing the withering of the Adult Skills Budget and Disability Student Allowances, and the lack of ability to solve urgent problems, and let alone innovate, means that learners ultimately lose out. I’m not just talking about how the loss of connections is having a negative impact on the Higher Education (HE); most people work engage in other areas such as outreach work with schools and colleges, so the loss of opportunities will have a far wider impact.
How can we create an outstanding education for all people and compete on a global stage if we do not bring experts together?
These networks are vital for teachers and professional service staff to stay up-to-date with new practices. They are vital to new teachers and researchers entering the profession. There will ultimately be a cost to the UK Education Sector that will far outweigh the investment to maintain it. How can we create an outstanding education for all people and compete on a global stage if we do not bring experts together?
So what can we do about it?
BERA and the Association of NTFs are quite similar in terms of goals – to encourage and facilitate collaboration, and be a voice in public debates – albeit our relative interests are ‘education research’ and ‘learning and teaching’ respectively. Perhaps we need to encourage collaborations between ourselves and other similar associations and organisations.
You can search for all NTF members via our ‘fellow finder’ by simply looking for a subject or institutional location. This could be one way that BERA member’s link up to NTFs should they wish to, and should NTFs be in a position to respond. I can’t answer for them obviously, but I do know they are quite a passionate lot.
Perhaps organisations could go one step further – we could consider ‘gate crashing’ each other’s conferences by committing free places on the premise that invitees host a workshop or whatever the equivalent of ‘bring a bottle’ would be return? I’d welcome any thoughts and suggestions from BERA members, and equally would welcome a guest blog back on the Association website!