FERL etc.

I recently read this blog post by Col Hawksworth: Afterglow.

In it Col expressed his frustration that just as he felt things were beginning, things were actually ending.  He saw the dying embers of investment in e-Learning across the wider F.E. Sector.

I know how he feels.

Several years ago when I was the college ILT (and then e-Learning) manager, I had the opportunity to attend quite a number of ‘e’ focused meetings and committees which aimed to support the take up and use of good ILT practice across the sector. Many of these were formulated by the superb FERL team working out of Becta. (e.g. The Ferl Practitioner’s Programme, Preparing for Inspection etc.). Then, about the time of and following Becta’s decision to become more strategic (which hasn’t seemed to do them much good in the long term) the FERL team disipated. Some stayed on and carried on the good work as best they could but many moved onto other areas and continue to ensure that ‘e’ is pedagogically embedded as well as possible. Remnants of the FERL team can be found in all walks of UK ‘e’ life. Just look closely.

For a period until about five years ago, there was an annual FERL Conference and no matter which Becta imposed political title the FERL conference bore, those attending relished every minute. And it wasn’t just the workshops that caused the enjoyment (even though at that time they were introducing a whole host of new and exciting tools, tips and techniques), it was the delegates themselves. Each person had a tale to tell and I for one enjoyed every tale I heard. Those war stories were in pre-Twitter and Facebook days and our community of practice (COP) continued (continues) on the ILT Champions mailing list, which  must be one of the more enduring and successful JISC mailing lists ever.  Many thanks are due to Rob Englebright for holding this together.

Now, like Col Hawksworth, I always felt a sense of sadness when those meetings and conferences broke up. This was because I knew (it was my belief) that we ‘the COP’ knew what was needed to embed ‘e’ and change institutional practice and not the Quangos, to whom the Government went for advice about funding. And I knew, in my heart, that nothing would change. And so, capital money was thrown at the sector, lots of it – but little or no ring-fenced revenue to support staff development.

Over the last six years, one shining light of ILT staff development has been the NIACE led e-Guides programme, which has always received tremendous feedback. More recently this has been funded by LSIS and been seen to complement the eCPD programme which they also funded.  Both programmes, like MoLeNET have been hugely successful and had begun to change the hearts and minds (the culture?) of staff rooms. The eCPD programme had begun to change the culture across wider areas of institutions. Because, we must not forget that ‘culture’ is not a single entity, it manifests itself in many ways; so much so that ‘culture change’ will always require vision and flexibility.

However, all of these programmes have now foundered on the rocks of low investment in staff skills.

As I commented on Col’s blog:

“I hope you come though this and use whatever means you can to disseminate and spread news of the excellent works you have done at Birkenhead 6th Form College. As you suggest (I think) there should be no cut off point and good practice should be allowed to flourish.

Time has proved that my own post-conference feelings (2002-2005 ish) were truly misplaced. Whereas my fears were that nothing would ever happen due to changes in Government priorities and a general failure to understand F.E. (by the Gov), they were wrong. People made the necessary changes happen. The early adopters and innovators (the original Champions and Mentors) are still out there and have worked long and hard to embed the ‘e’ we see being used in such a wide variety of ways today. They should be saluted because without their tenacity both in-post and as they moved on, have made the programmes we now see closing, a reality.

You [must] now take up the mantel and shout out VERY loudly. Keep blogging, keep tweeting and most of all keep up the good work.”



Yellow pipe

Yellow pipe

The question of time (where it comes from, how we manage it, what it is) arose this week when my friend and co-presenter at the RSC SouthWest Conference in Weston Super Mare, James Clay, answered a question about ‘time’ from the audience. He asked, rhetorically, what we do with our time now: do we sleep? do we eat? why is there never enough time? would we like more hours in the day? another day in the week? etc.

One of my employers this year asked those of us working as facilitators to kill such questions if they arose and close them down immediately, because there is no answer. But is that true – is there really no answer to the question of time?

I remember once, walking down the road from Richmond Station towards the Twickenham Rugby ground and considering the concept of time

We, four of us, were on our way to the Rugby League Challenge Cup final, being held at the England Rugby Union H.Q. for the first time. This was the third home international R.U. venue to host the northern hoards who would travel to see the ‘the other code’s’ major trophy final. We’d previously been to Murrayfield in Edinburgh and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. 80,000 people were beginning to fill the streets around Richmond now en route to Twickenham and the going was slow.

As I walked along, I watched the steady stream of airplanes lining up to land at Heathrow, some miles away towards the east. One by one they lazily dropped towards the runway and it set me off thinking about how the passengers were experiencing their time on board and comparing it to the way my own time was passing. For me, in 30 minutes or so, I would be at the turnstiles; yet they would be at baggage collection or beyond, possibly even in taxis on their way to the same match as me? Yet the same 30 minutes of time would have passed: theirs quickly, mine slowly. Or so it would seem.

But how could time be experienced so differently?

cross country train

cross country train

For me, daydreaming as we walked down that road, the time seemed interminable; but experience has taught me that for those on the plane, the time will have passed very quickly. Is it the things we are doing (or do) that determine the way we experience the passage of time? Is time really that flexible?

During our regular Saturday morning walk today (our weekly session in the metaphorical psychiatrists chair: See Crocodile Dundee for context and Mick’s reply to Sue’s comment that she was ‘going to the psychiatrists’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090555/usercomments) my friend quoted a colleague of his who suggested that the problem with time these days (when addressing an audience of teachers) was that we all have part time jobs. Because we have these part time jobs, it makes it very difficult to make the time to develop our skills and to undertake personally directed professional development.

When pressed, John’s colleague told the audience that we all [sic] have a part time job watching 20 hours T.V. per week! So how on earth can we find time to develop ourselves.

But whoa!! How contentious is that? Surely we should be allowed time to relax after our days work? Surely we should be allowed to choose how we spend our ‘spare’ time? If we choose to watch T.V. instead of updating our skills – then we should be allowed to do so.

Shouldn’t we?

To carry out my work professionally I personally feel the need to constantly update my knowledge and understanding of technology and the application of learning and this involves time I might otherwise spend watching T.V. I do my updating as and when I can, in-between meals, in-between jobs, during jobs and occasionally while watching T.V. – I don’t have to; I just feel that I should. I feel that if someone pays me to do a job, I should do my best to perform that job as well as I can. Furthermore, instead of driving to long distance jobs, I now take the train and depending on need can use the time gained by not having to drive, to read and relax or to work. The choice is mine, but often, someone is paying me, so I work, or update myself. I couldn’t do this if I drove (well I could, if I had enough audio recordings and podcasts but …)

In this time of constantly changing technologies, tools and techniques, it is imperative that a professional teaching workforce is versed in those very technologies, tools and techniques that can support learners and provide learning opportunities. To do this, the workforce should undergo/undertake ‘e’CPD alongside more traditional CPD activities. I mean this in the overarching general sense, rather than the narrower government funded view of eCPD. The undertaking and understanding of ‘e’ is personal to the circumstances of each individual teacher – so they should be the ones to choose it’s path (with guidance).

There is an argument which suggests that employers should recognise this need and allow teachers the chance to undertake such professional development, and I would be the strongest advocate of such a move – as I have been for many years now. But cynicism and experience tell me that it will never happen until todays innovators reach those management positions.

So what do we do in the meantime?

Perhaps we should take more airplane journeys and use the extended (speeded up?) time provided to learn new skills or to do our T.V. watching.