Jun 02 2013

TeachMeet – Do We Need To Go Back To Basics

The teach meet concept, which started in a pub in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2005 has spread pretty much around the world in only a few short years. The first teach meet (I wasn’t at that one…but I was at the second and subsequent ones) consisted of four or five colleagues sharing ideas, and quickly developed into the format we know today from the ‘official’ wiki.

  • 7-minute presentations on classroom experience or tools used
  • 3-minute nano-presentations on brief ideas or useful websites/tools
  • Round table discussions on agreed subjects recorded and published in some way
  • No sales pitches (apart from a nod to the sponsors and maybe a very short spot)
  • Absolutely NO PowerPoint presentations.
  • Amusing and witty MC not afraid to stop folks who’ve reached their time limit.

Now the venue was always less important than the ‘unconference’ ethos. Teach-meet was an antidote in many ways, to the sterile and un-engaging CPD delivered to teachers rather than involving them. Teach-meets usually (and preferably) take place away from schools, colleges or other formal institutions. This was a deliberate attempt to separate from establishment or organised CPD ).

And, it worked. Sponsors quickly saw the value of associating with the concept and therefore a venue was usually found, equipment sourced from participants, and drinks and nibbles purchased. The events were usually followed by an even less formal Teach-eat in a local restaurant or pub where the discussions continued far into the night…The concept quickly spread out across the UK from its birthplace in Scotland, and then was exported worldwide. It probably reached its zenith at the now-legendary Islay unconference in 2009. You can read about this event, Education 2020 here and here.

However, recently, there’s been a shift away from some of these guiding principles. Some teach-meets are now scheduled as in-school activities at the end of the school day, and in school itself. The original idea of 7 minute presentations has been axed in favour of shorter 3 minute shots. I think this in itself is a bad move as the 7 minute slot allowed you to cover a something in a little detail. 3 minutes leads to some shallowness at times. There needs to be a balance of sound bites and deeper experience re-telling.

The shift to using teach-meet as a formalised CPD offering held in a school in my view defeats the original ethos of independence and disestablishmentarianism.(!).

Whilst it’s great to see the format changed and adapted, I’m uncomfortable with this shift towards incorporation into something which is delivered to teachers, instead of being crowd sourced *from* them. Even if it’s only five folks in a pub using a laptop to share ideas, it is in my view, better than a shift to adoption by a hierarchy, and subsumation into that hierarchy.

Could we get back to the original idea, and replicate it in SA? I live in Cape Town, and would love to attend a teach-meet like this somewhere in the area. Is there the appetite from Mother City teachers and educators (and the surrounding environs, of course) for a back to basics teach-meet?

Written by Jaye Richards-Hill (@jayerhill)

** www.education.nomsindo.co.za

** www.mimanifesto.wordpress.com


Apr 28 2013

Exams In The Age Of Social Media

Social media has changed the way students gather information. It’s time for exam pages to be refreshed

Evolution is a slow process and change is generally fast. There’s a tension between these in education, obvious if you look at the work of two prominent researchers.

Sugata Mitra has just won this year’s TED prize and in his acceptance speech he said he’d like to build a “school in the cloud” where kids could connect and learn from each other. His vision of self-organised learning environments is gaining more and more traction. It’s a far cry from John Hattie’s paradigm in which interactions with teachers are most effective in raising attainment.

But we are all part of the “Soundbite generation”. Social media and online spaces have re-energised learning, as we graze on information delivered to us in short bursts. Education is more than ever a lifelong discovery of our own ignorance.

If you’re like me, you just can’t help following the links on Wikipedia pages, on a trail of constant knowledge acquisition. But how do we make sense of it all? Why do we remember these freshly acquired facts and excel in pub conversations?

I’m sure it’s down to self-direction. We’re interested enough to follow links on things we know little about. Such random learning illustrates that if we want learning to be deep and meaningful, we have to allow it to be self-directed, as Mitra advocates.

Of course, there need to be parameters, but it could work well in an age of falling pupil-to-device ratios and BYOT (bring your own technology).

One problem is exams. Despite a new curriculum focusing on skills, teachers still bemoan the lack of guidance on exam content; we can’t escape from teaching to the test, and thereby making exams about memory.

So here’s an idea: let’s ban any exam question that children could answer with a Google search. There’s no point memorising things just to pass an exam when hardly anything is more than a few clicks away. Let’s set the parameters in each subject and launch students on a voyage of discovery through the syllabus. Help them to develop skills of search, analysis of material, ability to attribute sources correctly, critical thinking, presentation and discussion.

If we must have exams, let them test these skills rather than memory for facts – because that leads to shallow and reluctant learning, while the former encourages a curriculum design that will engage, motivate and excite – and, all being well, a lifelong love of learning.

Written by Jaye Richards-Hill (@jayerhill)

** www.education.nomsindo.co.za

** www.mimanifesto.wordpress.com

Feb 24 2013

A New Pair Of Eyes

We live in a world where change is just about the only constant. We take for granted all the advances in technology of the last 20 or 30 years. We embrace change daily without giving it a second thought. Maybe it’s time to reflect on why so many of us revert from being enthusiastic about advancement in our personal lives to Luddites of almost giant proportions as soon as we enter the school gates. Opportunities and challenges offered to us as teachers are rejected by this resistance to change on the part of many colleagues, very quick to lay their woes at the door of school management, citing lack of support, training, resources, anything – without pausing for a moment to consider taking ownership of many of these challenges.

After all, our students do this every day. It never ceases to amaze me how the kids take all the ups and downs and changes in modern-day life in their stride almost without blinking an eye. Why can’t we adults adopt the same coping mechanisms, rather than relying on cynicism, complaints and resistance to change.

Take the use of ICT, for example. Now, with the availability of interactive platforms and other tools  in classrooms improving all the time, you would think teachers would be eager to introduce these into their classes. Many see the possibilities and embrace the challenge. And many do not, preferring to hark back to the days when chalk and talk were king and queen in an unholy reign of teacher superiority. They sit around and complain, using any excuse not to update their professional skills, ducking out of any organised training designed to help them break down the barriers surrounding ICT. In so doing, they magnify the credibility gap between teachers and students who access this technology every time they use web-spaces, blogs, and their smart phones and games consoles.

So, what to do then? How do schools address this capacity building, promoting an agenda for change? Surprisingly perhaps, we have to go back in time for a possible solution. The French philosopher Proust hit the nail on the head when he said that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.

Maybe we have to reflect on just why it is we can be so resistant to change in particular areas of our lives and yet so open in others, and try to re-examine our motivation from an entirely new standpoint. A new pair of eyes for a fast-changing and dynamic educational environment must play its part in the twenty-first century world in which we live today.

Written by Jaye Richards-Hill (@jayerhill)

** www.education.nomsindo.co.za

** www.mimanifesto.wordpress.com

Jul 13 2012

Using TweetChat to participate in #edchatsa

Sean Hampton-Cole, a regular #edchatsa contributor, has put together a SlideShare deck which shows how TweetChat can be used to follow our weekly Monday evening Twitter chats. I encourage you to pass this on to your colleagues and teacher-friends so that we can help others come on board.

 You can follow Sean on Twitter – @SeanHamptonCole

If you put together a presentation regarding #edchatsa, please let me know and I will feature it on the blog and on the #edchatsa Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Jul 09 2012

Chat Summaries Now Available

I am delighted to inform the #edchatsa community that regular summaries of the weekly chats will now be available. Fiona Beal of SchoolNetSA has volunteered to co-ordinate this and has done a stirling job in putting together a comprehensive summary of last week’s chat. You can access the chat summaries from the Previous Topic page of the #edchatsa site.

These summaries (put together on Storify) will provide a wonderful archive of the weekly chats and will serve as a source of links, resources and ideas for many months to come.

If you would like to assist with this, please contact Fiona on Twitter (@fibeal).

Jun 24 2012

Volunteers needed!

Started as an experiment and an attempt to connect the voices of education thought leaders in South Africa, #edchatsa is now almost four months old. It has become clear that this forum has a place in the education landscape of South Africa. What is now needed is to build on this foundation and to enhance the offering to the community.

I would love to see us take the next step in the development of this initiative through the following:


1) A weekly summary of all tweets

2) A termly Tweet-Up of participants to allow some face-to-face conversation

3) A regular education-focused dinner (working along the lines of the 27Dinners project)

4) An annual #edchatsa conference which focuses on key areas of education identified through the weekly chats


If you would like to assist with any of these #edchatsa projects, please send me an email by clicking here.

I am looking forward to hearing from you!


Apr 03 2012

Have you seen our Facebook page?


have new home on Facebook! Go along to www.facebook.com/edchatsa and introduce yourself on the wall.

Like us on Facebook

Mar 31 2012

Your thoughts are invited…

The #edchatsa community is full of insightful, committed and innovative thought-leaders in the South African education space. As a member of this community you are invited to submit a blog post on a subject close to your heart as long as it has connection to education. Your post will then be published and will be available on this site for comment by others.

You may want to introduce readers to a particular edtech tool, open debate around a particular topic, challenge paradigms or simply add insight to the #edchatsa topic of the week.

You will also be able to point readers to your own blog or social media platforms.

Blog posts may be submitted to blog@edchatsa.co.za