Professional Development in Emerging Tech: Of Tugboats and Speedboats
Lee Pin Qi, COO & Chief Learning Officer of edm8ker, is a social entrepreneur in the design thinking and empathy sector. A professional who wears multiple hats, Pin Qi is also a certified EQ practitioner, a YSEALI professional fellow, and a global facilitator and changemaker at ChangemakerXchange.
Terence Tan, Product Manager of edm8ker, is a former educator who was previously involved in the long-term planning of Singapore’s higher education sector involving ~100k students. He has also been seconded to teach in primary and secondary schools.
As educators who have spent the past six years working with teachers around the world on professional development (PD) programmes, we’ve seen how teaching and learning have evolved over the years. In 2020, as the pandemic evolved and gained momentum, we noticed an urgent shift in our client requests towards helping their students use technology. Towards digital making and. higher-order digital literacy. What do we make of all of this?
Changing Demands for Graduates in the Workplace
Some say this is just part of the changing nature of work: McKinsey reports that the time spent using technological skills in the workplace will increase by 60% from 2016 to 2030, while the time spent using physical and manual skills is forecast to decrease 11-14% within the same period. As new technologies emerge (or so the story goes), companies who want to stay competitive will need employees who can harness these emerging technologies in their work. This narrative often ends with a bold indictment: employers and students both don’t feel that graduates are prepared to enter the world of work. Surely the education system and our teaching pipeline require an overhaul!
Yet across the world, teachers are simply not sufficiently supported to develop their students’ higher-order digital literacy skills. According to the 2018 TALIS survey, a relatively high proportion (61%) of teachers in OECD countries acknowledge that information and communication technologies (ICT) use is covered as part of their PD. At the same time, the use of ICT for teaching is the second highest area of professional development (18%) that teachers report a high need for. This means that teachers are getting PD on ICT use, but for many, it isn’t enough. If teachers aren’t adequately trained to bring higher-order digital literacy into the classroom, why should they be held to task when the system falls short?
Our Current Teacher PD System Doesn’t Work. Why?
Instead, we suggest that the current teacher PD system is ripe for disruption. The current system in the US and various parts of the world, where teachers attend workshops and conferences, chalking up PD credits along the way, served us well in the past. It even served us well in the emerging days of edtech. Teachers are now familiar with Google Docs, Padlet and Kahoot - powerful tools in their own right. But existing PD structures are slow-moving tugboats, making them ill-suited for chasing the fast, nimble speedboats of emerging tech.
Here’s why current PD systems aren’t fit for purpose:
Emerging tech moves quickly. The rapid evolution of emerging tech makes it impossible for most people to keep up. The constant changes in the market have led many teachers to get frustrated and give up on incorporating technology into their classrooms. Existing PD offerings can’t change quickly enough to keep up.
Unfriendly user interfaces. With recent developments in Generative AI being an exception, much of emerging tech appears intimidating and unapproachable to teachers. They assume it’ll take a steep learning curve to understand. Existing PD offerings have trouble simplifying the user interfaces of emerging tech and getting teachers quickly acquainted with its potential.
Understanding emerging tech, like any specialized subject, takes technical depth. Technical depth takes time to achieve. Most teachers don’t have the time to reach technical depth, and neither should we expect them to. They’re pedagogical experts, not AI engineers. HOWEVER, a certain degree of technical understanding is necessary for teachers to infuse emerging technology into their classrooms. Existing PD offerings struggle to achieve a balance between technical depth and conceptual simplicity.
Three Ways to Improve the Teacher PD System
So how should we prepare our teachers for the brave new world of emerging tech - for AI, blockchain, AR/VR, and countless other technologies which haven’t been invented yet? Any PD solution that attempts to do so needs to take into account the following considerations:
Recency and relevance. Teachers want information that’s accurate and relevant. Software that’s free one month might be subscription-only the next; promising technologies might be shunned without warning due to security breaches. PD solutions need to be kept up-to-date and abreast of the latest shifts in emerging technology.
Leveraging community. PD solutions should allow teachers to collaborate freely and “remix” ideas on using emerging technology in the classroom. ClassIn’s new PD solution, TeacherIn, allows teachers to do so across borders, enhancing their professional knowledge exponentially. Teachers who are early adopters are particularly useful in helping to spread the word about valuable emerging technology. On a related point…
3. Meet teachers where they are. Some teachers are confident users of emerging tech. Others are just starting out. They might feel anxious and even afraid. PD solutions need to serve both equally. They need to provide teachers with resources calibrated to their readiness, and offer on-demand support as teachers access and tinker with these resources. For example, TeacherIn provides teachers with a range of material from world-renowned publishers - and guides them through accessing material that’s best for their needs.
The speedboats of emerging tech are here to stay; we need new ways of introducing teachers to them. At edm8ker, we’re looking forward to being part of the solution. In the coming months, we’ll be launching Eddy, a new platform with resources to help teachers infuse emerging tech into their lessons, every day.
Click here to sign up for the beta release of Eddy – limited slots are available!
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