I had the opportunity to speak to the HETTANZ annual conference today – the topic was “Online Communities of Practice“. I spoke about the ways in which the use of online applications and environments could enrich the discourse within their professional community, and enable them to continue the valuable conversations they were initiating at this event well beyond the dates of the physical conference. As a professional organisation, this group has a well defined domain within which they operate, they are identified as a community by their membership of this organisation, and they are all engaged in the practice of teaching home economics within the school system – so they amply meet the criteria for existing as a community of practice as defined by Wenger et al, and could benefit greatly by using the online environment to continue the discussions about the issues they are facing as practitioners (eg. the introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum, the status of HE teachers, assessment of HE etc)
It was clear that what I had to share, particularly about the online technologies, was new to many of those in the group, making some feel uncomfortable or anxious about expectations being made of them to become active in this area. This was highlighted in some of the questions at the end of my session and in numerous conversations afterwards in which the following three issues were repeatedly raised;
- Schools are not adequately resourced to allow much of what I was demonstrating to become a reality for them in their classrooms (referring to availability of hardware, software, internet access etc)
- There isn’t the time required to become familiar with this technology or the applications demonstrated, and
- There are serious concerns around cybersafety and security that present too big a barrier.
While I do have some empathy with these concerns, these are exactly the reasons why professional organisations such as HETTANZ should be mobilizing themselves to use the online environments for their own professional development and to enable participation in their professional community of practice. Before these issues can be sensibly addressed, we need to see more teachers developing informed views about the potential use for both good and bad of these technologies based on their personal use rather than the opinions expressed in the media. I illustrated how this is happening already with several hundreds of teachers engaged in the Curriculum Online discussions and forums, and in the Centre4 communities that have formed around the ICT PD clusters.
With many now asking, Is it OK to be a technologically illiterate teacher?, it’s time to say Enough Excuses and begin committing time and energy to exploring these technologies and what they offer – and I believe that participation in an online community of practice is an excellent way of engaging with people to achieve this. Not only does it introduce them to the potential (and possible pitfalls) of the technology in a practical way, but it does so by engaging them in authentic acts of debate and discussion about the practice they are involved in.
I am reminded as I write of a quote made by Karen Sewell in her keynote to the conference the previous day: “We must escape from the prison we trap ourselves in – too often we respond with reasons why we can’t innovate!”. Now there’s a challenge 🙂
In preparing for this talk I reflected about my own mother who trained as a home economics teacher, and who brought all of that knowledge and experience into her role as a wife and mother in the home. The video clip at the bottom of this post comes from the era that she trained, and illustrates the fact that home economics was then, as it is now, a subject that has much to contribute to the development of young people.