On turning on my computer this Thursday 24th November I realised that there was a bit of a debacle going on. The majority of posters on the weekly #ukedchat forum 20:00 – 21:00 GMT in the UK, usually have a lively and focused debate around a subject voted for by their peers. The subjects are suggested by a variety of people a week beforehand by a democratic vote and then the debate, reflection, CPD and other resource-sharing begins – many people have called it their best CPD and other plaudits. It is a space where teachers gather online from any sector in UK schools, private or state, and can swap views and benefit from each others’ experience and knowhow.
However on entering the chat a few minutes late I could see that there was anything but consensus and sharing between the people on the discussion stream. Basically the Teaching Awards were having a “special” #ukedchat on the Teaching Awards. Many people, like Doug Belshaw, regarded the whole thing as a commodification and hijacking by Pearson of the #ukedchat values and ethos and that they were trying to leverage the channel to their best advantage in this one off.
I quote his words: “the TES and Pearson seem to have conspired to commodify #ukedchat in an underhand, Machiavellian way.”
Strong stuff but I suspect it is only half the case – if that.
I first encountered the Teaching Awards at #TMLondon (the London TeachMeet) and you can hear my interview here:
and as you can hear I asked some very specific questions about the organisation and who bankrolled it, its makeup and nature and I was interested in their plan to build networks around the country to build on expertise and CPD. It is a charity with its main funding coming from the DfE and Pearson.
I was a bit taken aback by the scope of what they hoped to achieve and the parallel network they were intending to build but I think education is a broad church and commercial partnerships can help give scope and definition to a good idea. Like me Doug has worked for commercial educational providers in his time and is well placed to judge on the quality of how commercial companies interact with their target market.
Doug also pointed out that Pearson don’t get Social Media. I think they do but their PR teams, perhaps, at times, don’t. I was quite interested in working with Pearson on helping to build networks but I’m not now. Why? I think they need to understand the very fragile nature of trust relationships in the online educational world and work from there – they will need to do a lot of bridge building to repair the damage done tonight unintentionally or otherwise.
Whereas at the recent Mozilla festival the Pearson API team was probably well embedded in lending their expertise to the Mozilla foundation crew and were associated with the event they weren’t trying to run or choreograph it – having a “special” #ukedchat session on the subject was another matter. Pearson are also involved with the http://londonedu.startupweekend.org/ which my non-profit Social Media for Schools is backing – but that is an event where they are associated with the startup hacking concept but not driving it – there is a difference – it is a new concept and not an established trust network.
I also did not know that the TES is behind the “#ukedchat” hashtag but then it is a person not a commercial conspiracy and she was mortified to see how the whole thing panned out. If anything happened tonight it wasn’t a Machiavellian plot, merely a PR disaster that ended with the brand associated with the Teaching Awards turning slightly toxic in the eyes of a small online teaching community. Not good for the brand and not good for the fragile emergent community.
I am one of the very few truly independent consultants in the UK and I do a lot of pro bono work for non-profits, charities but also paid work for commercial organisations – you can see who I have worked for on my evolving CV above – everything is always transparent and I keep very clear demarcation lines between commercial and free work. I even got “let go” from a project earlier this year for sticking to my guns when it came to producing educational resources for an unnamed organisation I am not at liberty to mention – I wasn’t going to do anything that I considered compromised my ethical values. I have also moderated #ukedchat and I have nothing but admiration for the teaching community that built #ukedchat and continues to maintain it especially @chilledteaching. I do also teach from time to time still.
The @teachingawards pointed out not long into the proceedings that
I think, this is a complete travesty of what happened. Basically the majority of posters were not in favour of the “competition” ethos (real or imagined) behind the awards and it sort of fell apart from there really. I think the focus should have been more around the nature of achievement but it never got off into a positive direction. Eventually the whole discussion was replaced by another halfway through on the Digital Divide.
Anyone coming into the discussion, or fray, for the first time would have drawn entirely the wrong conclusion about the purpose of #ukedchat and what a wonderful resource it is and probably would have left pretty quickly too. There were several comments from first timers who were extremely disappointed by the whole thing and that is not a good state of affairs.
These are hard times for commercial companies; they are all looking for the magic bullet and they are all in transition when it comes to building effective channels to market and products their consumers want. They will try a number of imaginative means to get to a core market – how they do it is the difference. As has already been pointed out by Doug there are the commercial firms who strongly embed themselves in the online educational communities and they do a lot of free work for schools – these people, and I do not have to name them as everyone agrees on who they are, have built people’s trust over months and years by consistency and authenticity of purpose – they have proved themselves by their actions over time. They understand the authenticity of listening and acting on what people want. They will co-opt the best practitioners to build and write new products. Other firms blunder in and expect people to listen – it doesn’t work because too many people are attuned to being exploited. This may result in oversensitivity and misperception in some cases but the damage has already been done.
#ukedchat is a brilliant resource and will continue to be a brilliant resource – a lot of people who have given an immense amount of time have been hurt by accusations flying around and I can understand both sides of the argument. People need to stand back and learn from this evening’s experience. There were several strategies suggested at the end of the evening’s chat – some to have different chats for “special” commercially sponsored chats and others for pure pedagogy.
What has emerged from this evening’s episode is that trust networks are fragile and rare things that need to be nurtured. The way in which we do that for the greater good is the key – and how we interact with others in our communities in genuine open and transparent ways to help build the greater good in society will always be to the fore for me personally.
In this era of corporate financial greed, mass unemployment of young people, the bankruptcy of politicians and their ideologies we need something of true worth.
For the record I have won an award once and been up for several others over the years. The one I won was down to the work of my pupils who came with me to receive it and to get a great day out at the Science Museum. Otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. What counts is what every teacher knows in their heart – doing the best they can for their pupils and no amount of lauding by others can replace the small victories made every day in the classroom – that is the thing that inspires and keeps people in a very difficult job. Long may it be so.