If you’d told a young Michael Benzine, a callow teenager wedded to his copy of Crash magazine and wrapped up in magnetic tape as he vainly tries to fix his busted analogue tape of Horace Goes Skiing, if you’d told him that he’d one day be teaching a group of students in his underpants from the waist down, well I’d’ve spat my Quatro all over you.
Truth be told, I was more of a Lilt man (not Diet Lilt – that tasted more like the can than the drink), but if you’d told me that one day, I would be orchestrating learnsperiences from the comfort of my bedsit in fleecy y-fronts, suffice to say, you’d be lucky to come away from that particular prediction with a face dry of early eighties’ pop – of the drink and not the musical variety. You’d be passing the Dutchie, by which I mean my spewed soda, upon the face-hand side, by which I mean your face.
Yes, I wouldn’t have believed it. And that pretty much characterizes any statement you might make about our current edu-teach-utation vis a vis how we are delivering the experience that I like to call learning to students in these most unusual times. But, as I’m sure you’ll already have gathered, I have more than risen to the demands of the zeitgeist. If zeitgeist means, as I think it does, ‘spirit of the times’, then let me be your spirit during these times. Think of me not as a Ghost of Christmas past, present or future, but think only this of me: as your Ghoul of Techucation; as a kind of poltergeist that levitates tech-teaching ideas around your house and into your lessons and smashes analogue teaching ideas against the wall of your pedagogical comfort zone, leaving you a gibbering wreck of what doesn’t work – but all of that in a good way.
So here, without further ado (and much adon’t), are my five edtech teaching tech-teach-tips:
Edtech teaching tech-teach-tip number 1: Ensmallen the sweaty stuff
When it comes to mastering the various platforms, applications and protocols of the edu-teach world, I like to cut through the mangrove of learn-tech advice by ensuring that I stick to a few basics from the outset, so my smalls don’t get too sweaty. If you’re using Google Classroom to deliver lessons, don’t be switching it up to Teams midway through the term and throwing out a googley at your confused charges. Don’t be getting all moodling, when you’ve been moocing heretofore. Smallen your practice so that you don’t get sweaty in your transitions. Before you know it, you’ll be dry all the way to the plenary and beyond.
Edtech teaching tech-teach-tip number 2: Wear trousers
When a Belgian mayor unwittingly shows his kecks in the mirrored cupboard door behind him as he Zooms, that’s a humorous meme that does no harm at all to his electoral standing (it’s probably more of an honorable status than an elected position, I don’t know. I’m no expert in Belgian regional political hierarchy. You didn’t come to me for that, did you? You came to me for hot nuggets of tech-teach juice for your teaching brain.)
But when you’re caught teaching in your Calvins from the waist down, you’ll be as soon as measuring your own personal specials and out the proverbial digital door of this virtual school in which we find ourselves like a lost iphone in the night.
So wear trousers, or a skirt. You could wear a dress. A sarong, I suppose. I guess in any case, you should probably adhere to your school’s dress code. And try to avoid going commando. It chafes.
Edtech teaching tech-teach-tip number 3: Teach like the Budmaster
The first time I tried to test a student for Covid whilst teaching fronted adverbials and cleaning the bin that Connor had wee’d into, I accidentally pushed the cotton bud up through Chardonnay’s right nostril and into her left eye (don’t ask). From that little hiccup onward, I have sought to perfect my swabbing skills in a multitask stylee. From the moment that I wake up in the morning, swabbing a tiny tears doll in my sleep, I ensure that every task I accomplish for the first hour of the day, is done so whilst swabbing said tiny tears doll (you could use a cabbage patch doll or, at a push, a TY Beanie Baby) with a cotton bud.
That way, the next time you are called upon to test thirty children for Covid whilst teaching number sense and picking up vomited pineapple from the number grid carpet, there’s no chance that you’ll inadvertently blind a Year 3.
Edtech teaching tech-teach-tip number 4: Channel the Collier
One reason why I’m no longer invited to deliver TED Talks is that one of my cornerstone tech-edu-vices depends upon quite specific cultural and temporal knowledge. This involves about a 15-minute explanation of the career and comical tropes of the eighties comedian, Norman Collier. Ginger, straw-haired and as sharp-faced as Jon Pertwee (an early Doctor Who, who played Worzel Gummidge well before Mackenzie Crook – who has too non-sharp a face to serve as a simile in this particular sentence), Norman Collier was a master of the comic possibilities of the failing microphone. He would walk confidently onto any stage and begin to deliver his schpeil whilst feigning a technical fault with his microphone that would hilariously result in parts of his speech being clipped. Much of the humour lay in his mounting confusion and panic as he feigned the slow dawning of realisation of the technical fault. It was also really funny when you could tell that he was saying something rude, but the mike cut it out.
So, with this anecdote firmly in your mind, when you next run out of bandwidth, when you next find that technology falters, lean into it for comic effect: stick a cotton bud up your own nose for a change.
Edtech teaching tech-teach-tip number 5: K.I.S.S.
People tell me that this acronym stands for Keep It Simple Stupid, which is patently stupid, because with my ‘ensmallen the sweaty stuff’ I’ve already told you to do that (or did I tell you not to do it?). So, for me and those that know me, K.I.S.S. stands for Knowledge if Skills (are being) Share(d). Yes! If you teach online with the underlying philosophy that knowledge is best imbibed through a process of the students sharing the skills that you impart to them through a process of sharing those skills that they’ve imbibed through your impartation – you can’t go far wrong.
So, whenever trainee teachers ask me how to structure the perfect online lesson, I tell them that the knowledge and skills will come if the knowledge if skills are being shared. Your lessons will each be like an individual field of dreams into which your students will drift, pinching themselves like ghostly baseballers in a field of dreams. Like in the film, Field of Dreams, except YOU are Kevin Costner and the dreams are learning objectives and the ghostly baseball players are your students.
That’s not quite how I meant to finish, but I think you’ve got the tech-gist of my learnoid grist. Happy digi-teaching, keep your pants on and mind where you stick that cotton bud!