ResearchED has now been going long enough (this was its 4th) to have acquired its own set of clichés. Tom Bennett will collapse the real world into the Twittersphere (“We’re trending!”) while wearing a waistcoat. Lunch may exist, but only for wimps (like vegetarians, like me.) The technology will be impressive for those watching in Sydney, but pants for anyone in the room. There is no single ResearchEd: everyone makes their own; and after spending Saturday experiencing it, they spend Sunday blogging about it. (Then they wait for Helene to retweet it.) My day was not your day. This was my day.
It’s not straight, and it goes uphill. Sir Norman Foster obviously wanted to introduce a bit more effort to the usual business of getting from A to B; perhaps he intended to disrupt our cognitive ease. In any case, headteacher Alex Thomas was right: Capital City Academy was somehow the perfect venue for ResearchEd 2016. The day was filled with gentle dichotomies and seeming contradictions, enough to provoke thought without provoking ire. Like the cognitive dissonance of being told that your identity did not matter that much, certainly not enough to be worth queuing for, and surely less than a TES bag and pen. What is identity to a denizen of Twitter? I am well-known, but hardly recognised – anonymous among 650 friends. Fortunately I brought two actual friends with me. That’s two more than Nick Gibb, who committed the raging solecism of being a guest at a conference devoted to evidence-based policy while defending grammar schools.
Thereafter, the ironies followed. Laura McInerney told a room-full of teachers that teachers suffer performance anxiety, that we are perfectionists before whom it is unwise to demonstrate best practice. And she did it perfectly. (Although I would quibble with the assertion that we are a ‘performative profession’.) She reminded us too of her discovery of the ‘tired teachers’, those leaving the mainscale to boost the profits of the agencies. Hers is a serious analysis, but there we were – tired or not – spending our Saturday morning with her.
Better with her, perhaps, than with the oddly cheery behaviourist Alex Petty. He trotted out the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram electric shock test – distressingly familiar studies which somehow go to demonstrate that we should still set homework to students who refuse to do it. In his analogies, I kept casting myself as the one with the prison guard uniform, the one with my hand on the lever and wondering whether I was a teacher at all, and not maybe O’Brien in Room 101. Petty’s solution to this toxic culture that he imagines pervades our classrooms is to ‘celebrate success’. (He said 6 other things too, but I was keen to celebrate my own success in writing that down.)
Paul Bennett imagined his talk was to take place after lunch, unaccustomed as he is to the parallel timetabling of #rED food. He also thought he was giving a talk called Technology, E-Learning and Teachers. But Bennett is an ‘iconoclast’ (Paul thinks Tom is too) and so a tech disrupter is bound to deliver a talk where the Power Point has lost all of his animations, and the screen is hung in the far corner. (Was that you, Lord Foster?) I’m grateful to Paul for sharing three Zs in one slide, without sending anyone to sleep: Personalization, Robotization, Googlization – the 3 ideologies of high tech education. Bennett is a self-professed blasphemer, and he should wash his mouth out for proposing that school leaders should develop reliable measures to evaluate the effectiveness of digital learning.
I loved it all. I marvelled at the 6th Form Library, where the books had all been stolen. I chuckled in an unreconstructed way at the blue and pink signs denoting the boys’ and girls’ changing rooms in the dance studio. I empathised with Frank Furedi, whose Why is Reading always in Crisis suffered its own near-crisis when Amanda Spielman showed insufficient passion and left early. And what eduquack chaser would not experience a delighted tremor as Paul A Kirschner checked off of all our favourite urban myths? And so as to prove that none of us is an efficient multi-tasking digital native, he forbade the use of phones and tablets. Surely the ultimate contradiction in ResearchED terms?