Are teachers content management systems?

On Friday I tweeted this:

It has since been retweeted by a couple of my PLN. So why did I tweet it and why might it resonate with other tweachers?

When the thought came to me I was hastily preparing for the first meeting of my school’s new PBL Research Team (more on this to come) and in doing so I was looking at the data from a DER in Stage 6 survey I collected last year. The survey was completed twice – once by teachers and once by Year 10 students. Essentially I asked both teachers and students what their expectations were for DER in Stage 6. (For my international readers, DER is the 1-1 initiative of our current federal government that aims to give a laptop to every student in Years 9-10, and Stage 6 refers to the highest level of secondary schooling in NSW – culminating in the external Higher School Certificate examinations.)

Here are some of the questions I included in the survey:

Responses from both surveys were very similar – students and teachers did not expect to use the netbooks often in class. The only technology that both groups wished to see being used was IWBs – and this would be as little as once a fortnight. If netbooks were used they would be used for accessing information on the internet. The responses weren’t unexpected – these students have been conditioned by a lifetime of school-setting education exposure to see education as ‘the filling of a pail’ – they are the empty vessels waiting to be filled by teacher. And teachers have been conditioned to see themselves in the same way. Stage 6 means big pressure for teachers and students – no one wants to fail, therefore no one wants to risk being set on fire. My analogy for teachers is the content management system – but the irony of course is that we are not robots, we have not been programmed to work in the seamless, repetitive and reliable way that a CMS can. So the acceptance of teachers as CMS actually necessitates failure.

Here is a definition of a CMS I found which relates nicely to how teachers are viewed by governments, parents and media and therefore shapes how teachers see themselves:

‘A CMS or Content Management System is used for the control and editing of content. Content includes electronic files, images and video based media, audio files, electronic documents and web text.’ (Source: http://www.kangainternet.com.au/content-management-system.html)

I like this definition because it engages with digital media – something many teachers are beginning to do more regularly since the introduction of DER. But the ‘control and editing’ of this digital content still stays firmly in the hands of the teacher.

I came across another type of CMS – the ‘Learning Content Management System’ when I was googling CMS (Yes, I had a normal person look and went to wikipedia)

‘LCMS is software for managing learning content across an organization’s various training development areas. It provides developers, authors, instructional designers, and subject matter experts the means to create and re-use e-learning content …’ (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_management_system)

The same essence is repeated even though this is specifically for ‘learning’ – the underlying assumption is that there is ‘content’ that must be ‘delivered’ to students after having been ‘created’ by ‘developers, authors, instructional designers, and subject matter experts’. Replace ‘delivered’ with ‘taught’ and ‘developers’ with ‘teacher’ and you get something like the Victorian ideal which is ‘teachers teach content’ … lol.

There is hope for teachers though! I discovered that you can buy a digital teacher online – see:

‘Ecampus LMS is a learning management system that gives organisations the tools and support they need to create and manage elearning content, manage student data and asses students.’ (Source: http://www.ecampus.com.au/solutions/learning-management-systems/ecampus-platform.html)

OK – I’m being silly, but the three things that the LMS does, according to the blurb, is what teachers are given responsibility for: create and manage content, manage student data and assess students. There just isn’t room for lighting fires – so don’t bother, OK? I mean – education is important, right? *insert sarcastic tone*.

Where am I going with this? Well, I too am a teacher and I too feel the awful mounting pressures of the need to fill students with content necessary to excel in the end of year examination. My Stage 6 class badly want the content – I can see it in their eyes, ‘Please Miss, please just write on the board what we need to know and let us put it in our essays!’ And I know what needs to go in there. But so far I have been resistant to ‘give’ it to them that easily – I have refused to ‘reduce’ the world of literature and ideasย  (which in my current case is the man himself, Mr W. Shakespeare) to an essay scaffold and dot points. Does that make me a bad teacher? Well it makes me feel like one. So my solution is to write a blog for them where I put up (in my own words) what they need to know to ace the test. And then I rethink this decision – because isn’t doing that just moving me one step closer to being a CMS/LCMS/LMS?

I know I’m going to do it anyway. I know I should get them to make the blog and write the posts. BUT I also know that they have pressures from other subjects and tell me repeatedly there is no time to do extra work like writing blog posts and making prezis. So, I’ll do it for them. I will. And one day the work I’m initiating with PBL in the more junior years will pay off because these future (and ideal) students will laugh at my vain attempts to maintain power by controlling the information. They will tell me I am a broken-down filing cabinet that needs to move into the 21st century.

And I will laugh with them as we all dance in the fire.

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16 thoughts on “Are teachers content management systems?

  1. Bianca, I really felt your quandary here this morning. It’s Sunday morning and I am at the computer trying to get next week clear in my head, to post work to Edmodo for my seniors who are on a week long excursion, trying to figure out how to foster learning that allows them to explore the Speeches we are doing in a rich way while they miss the interaction, nuances and collaboration with their Peers this week. For this cohort, I know they want the content, Q and answers, dot points and scaffolds to rote learn. I have made a concerted effort to make them think, more than ever, to share their ideas, after all that is what Advanced English is-personal engagement. ๏Œ We have had some awesome moments; some students have contributed more than ever. But I also struggle sometimes because this may require them to do more at home, to catch up on those dreaded notes, Q & A that I constantly worry they will “suffer’ without. Managing this tension-between the learning that the exam requires and the learning that occurs about our topic, our world, our subject, ourselves-that is what I struggle with every day.I hate feeling like a Content Manager!! Does my Sunday ramble even make sense …..? Probably not but I do know that you sharing your journey certainly helps keep me going ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I hate feeling like one too – it makes me constantly doubt my potential as a teacher. I am feeling it right now as my Year 12 students prepare for their first HSC examination – the half-yearly. I have really enjoyed exploring our two prescribed texts together – but when it came to the ‘essay’ – all those wonderfully rich ideas were condensed, reduced to a series of paragraphs ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  2. Hi Bianca
    Thank you for your passion and enthusiasm. I like, too, that you see that your work in Project Based Learning is seen as a vehicle for eventual change to the way the the expectations about how ‘school’ is done can be affected. When we look back through history we can see that we arrived at a point where so much of the curriculum is ‘just in case’ learning. That is, when students ask the inevitable “why do we need to learn this?” question, we respond with “just in case you need to….calculate the area under an archway..or write three persuasive paragraphs..or describe 2 themes someone else has elicited within a play or..”
    And, in trying to move, as you clearly are, to a learning design process which seeks to see learners identifying and engaging in ‘just in time’ learning, it is so difficult to know that the pushback you describe is very real. It has always stuck firmly in my mind when I think of times where I would engage students in a session where questioning was being used to build student curiosity and then a student; with pained expression and half raised hand would say: “Can we get on with our work now?”
    I guess that while ever we see our schools as process factories, we’ll continue to have our students resenting the intrusion of personal thought into the workaday world of widget production. The possession of curiosity, imagination and creativity, along with the capacity to truly be an ‘educated’ person is, perhaps in the eyes of our students after all, far too valuable to be squandered away in the workplace ๐Ÿ™‚
    As you know, I bang on about moving from school planning: tweaking what IS; to planning school: creating what COULD BE.
    Thanks for your post, and your willingness to push the evolution boulder uphill. There’s come a time where it teeters at the top..and then it will rush headlong down the slope of the future.

    • I love the distinction between ‘just in case’ and ‘just in time’ learning. I had that discussion with Year 10 yesterday during ‘circle time’ when we considered the relevance of the School Certificate and the content they were required to ‘know’.
      Thanks for your comments!
      Looking forward to the boulder rolling me over in the future!

  3. Sorry for consecutive comments, but though that a response I just posted on Yammer may also be a relevant comment for your blog post, as it deals with sometime perceptions from those we work with.
    ‘Funnily enough, the issue of getting ‘colleagues on board’ can always be tricky. I have some schools where it is no longer an issue because all teachers are using blogs to support their class and home/school interaction but of course that’s much easier in a small school. It’s such a shame though, when the initiatives of some teachers are eroded from within when they may be seen as a threat to workload for others, or a challenge to the comfort zone of work practice. Or even, in that playground way of moderating behaviour: as ‘showing off.’
    There is no doubt that changed work practices can change workload and redistribute the ‘when’ and ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the things we do. Here are we, after all, engaging on a Sunday morning while keeping one eye on the #insiders tweetstream. The sadness becomes real when comments can then be made by some that this should stop or: ‘soon they’ll be expecting all of us to work on our weekends.’ The thin edge of the wedge, to my mind, in this case is personally selected and much more fun and likely to make a difference that the blunt, immoveable other end.’

  4. Roger and Bianca-it’s that “change of work practices”, the promise of the future , that is so very rewarding and exciting ! For all the concern we have about how we do what we do in present structures, those light bulb moments with students, the movement that I see in their thinking, are something I would not trade for the world.If we weren’t reflecting and questioning ourselves and our teaching, then we wouldn’t be evolving.

  5. Check Salman Khan from Khan Academy at TED. He, I think, gets it right. Technology and connected classroom for students to process content at home or outside of classroom at their own pace. Use the classroom for developing skills, sharing ideas, communicating and peer teaching. I think it’s a simple inversion of the way things are done.

    • Thanks Jimmy ๐Ÿ™‚
      I haven’t had a look yet – but will now. I did read a fascinating list of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ about this inverted classroom (I know what the essence of the video is) … it does make sense on face-value, but the blog post about it had some really interesting ‘everyday teaching practicalities’ as to why it might not work all of the time. Just like all other pedagogies, we’ve just got to be flexible and select that which is right for the kids in the class ๐Ÿ™‚
      (I’ll tweet now and see if I can find that blog post again … it was a cracker!)

  6. Hi Bianca,

    I am really glad I caught the link for this post in the endless stream of twitter links :p

    One of the many facets of education that we’re tackling at uni in recent weeks is “teacher identity” – As I was reading your post it dawned on my the risk (and by no means do I place yourself in this category) teachers may take when they want to take on the identity of a 21st Century Educator – of changing mediums (blackboard to IWBS, paper to blog etc) to deliver content without changing the method. Your post has inspired me to focus my research topic for my ICT in education unit on this “method not medium” challenge. Using digital media and ICTs to promote higher order thinking.

    Keep on blogging these wonderful insights!

    @joseph_stephens

    • Yes! It is a BIG risk that we run with technology and the reality of standardised tests and high-stakes summative examinations. How one approaches the assessment drives most teachers’ identities – have you covered that one at uni?

  7. Hey Bianca, is it work making a distinction between whether you see yourself as a content manager or a learning manager? The way I see it a learning manager can help students get to the content, but not neccessarily the other way around.

    To return some of this AWAY from the tech space and BACK to the English-specific space…haven’t we always kinda been “Librarians”…?

    I prefer to invoke the metaphor of my Librarian self, rather than of my LMS self. The cardigan is much more cozy x

    • Thanks Kelli … the idea of a ‘learning manager’ is good … but when you look at the definition of a ‘learning management system’, I don’t know if I see myself as this either:
      ‘Typically, a learning management system provides an instructor with a way to create and deliver content, monitor student participation, and assess student performance.’
      http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/learning-management-system
      I know why you’re using that metaphor – in that our job is to manage the learning experiences of our students – it does seem to fit the bill. Seems silly, but for me ‘manager’ implies control and power, ideas I think are becoming more problematic with our young people. They often aren’t synonymous with ‘respect’ these days – have they ever been? Maybe I’m just too much of a punk ;0)
      I would love to hear more about your idea that English teachers are ‘librarians’? In what way? I’m one of those bad English teachers that loves to read but does so sporadically, getting fixated on a novel I can’t put down or stop talking about. I don’t think I ever incite a love of reading in my students although I wish I did – sometime I wonder what I actually do in my classroom! … is that what you mean by librarian?

  8. Pingback: Integration of a Website or an Educational Content Management System into Teaching Practices | esljoanie

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