Saturday, 2 March 2013

Pedagoo Teachmeet London 2013: A Good Day Out



The IoE had never looked lovelier.

I collect lanyards, just in case I fall through a manhole into the past and I need to get in somewhere to use the bathroom. I think I draw a line when they sport badges that say 'I heart [Insert sponsor here]'. I missed that little gem until after I'd taken it off, unfortunately. Does anyone really heart a company? Even the CEO? I seriously doubt it. It reminds me of the kind of Stalinist cultism that inspires middle-management pep talks in Harvester conferences. You're looking at a man that used to watch grown men stand in a circle, put their hands in the centre, raise them aloft simultaneously and shout 'LET'S GO TUESDAY,' in an ascending note.  I've seen things you wouldn't believe.

Saturday saw me chipping along to Pedagoo London. It might have been a Teachmeet. I'm not sure. Everyone I asked had a different opinion about it, but I had a lanyard so I must have been in the right place. Helene O'Shea, the most civil and elegant of Mavens on twitter invited, so I could hardly refuse.

It was held at the Institute of Education, my old Alma Mater, which always means a bitter sweet mixture of affectionate memories and feeling shit about late essays and the general sense that I was an Olympic failure. Built in a time when designing buildings meant scaling up a Stalinist Rubik's cube into terrifying lifesize, it resembles the carved-out mountain that John Conner ends up in Terminator 3. No 3G signal, but I presume they have subterranean warehouses of baked beans so that, at least, copies of Dewey and Montessori survive the cannibal holocaust.

It was also one of those terrifying situations when you realise that people on twitter are actually real, and not some algorithmically generated avatar from Black Mirror. It's great when this happens. It means that in future, when you're discussing things online in the future you can dispense with putting a smiley after anything remotely caustic, and not worry that they'll take the virtual hump, if such things worry you in first place.  

I could only come in, deliver my own goods and bail, like some heartless educational gigolo, but it was efficiently planned to the very last fig roll. My session was a hobby horse with which readers will be familiar: junk research in education, so I ran through a rogue's gallery of my most wanted: Learning Styles (Harry's equally shameless classroom cousin), Multiple Intelligences, etc. it was also a chance to talk about the numerous tumours that metastasise in educational research: the Hawthorne effect, confirmation bias, the Pygmalion effect, the John Henry Effect, Novelty syndrome and many others. These frailties effect every scientific sphere, and until they are accounted for, research isn't worth a damn thing. Unfortunately 75% of the educational research I read seems to be blissfully unaware of such things, believing that science, like Adam, sprung ex nihilo, and can be invented in a day.

I'm often accused of being negative about this area, but what could be more positive than making sure that edu research, when it is invoked, is sound? That what we believe and why we believe it are as secure as possible? My teaching career was brewed in the distillery of modern pop-research: if you weren't wearing your Thinking Hat while planning for learning styles you were considered to be unsafe with children. Some of it totters on, like zombies; some of it is nearly dead, like Brain Gym (perhaps the zombies ate the Brains). But new fancies emerge all the time, and It's vital that we don't become part of a new wave of pseudo science and cargo cult educational theories.

The great thing about the Teach Meet phenomena is that it brings teachers together to discuss their own learning interests; it provides an outlet for people to cruise the back streets of CPD, winking at the figures in the bushes and leaning over to unlock the passenger door in the dark.  It was genuinely lovely to see so many interesting people putting themselves out on a precious weekend to learn from each other, and everyone I met was very kind (he says, sounding like John Merrick at tea with the quality). Anything that brings teachers together to learn about the things they're interested in rather than what some hard-on with a pervert's eye on the imagined appetites of Ofsted inspectors thinks they need to learn, is a good thing. As long as we don't simply become magpies to the next shiny innovation, the latest gimcrackery to seep from the Petri dishes of novelty and optimism.

In other words, it might be very useful indeed.

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