Training days: the cloud and CPD

Editor Charley Rogers asks a range of experts about how cloud computing can be demystified for teachers through CPD

When we first think of edtech, the immediate tendency is to picture gadgets – VR headsets, 3D printers, sleek software, and shiny new Chromebooks or iPads – but in reality, a lot of the success of education technology is down to its implementation and integration. After all, edtech, despite its often-incredible advancement, is still only a tool, and a tool used incorrectly inevitably causes more harm than good. Here then, is where CPD (continued professional development) is essential. 

Teachers across the country vary both in their particular pedagogical methods and, of course, in the specific ways in which they have been trained. One large variation is the level of technology with which teachers are familiar. For example, a teacher trained in 1999 will have received significantly different instruction in tech than someone who undertakes their training in 2018. These two teachers, however, could feasibly be teaching the same curriculum at the same time, with the same resources. This is one of the most compelling reasons for the argument that training cannot cease after initial teacher training is completed; continued learning is essential to consistency across the education sector. 

Although all edtech requires sufficient training and CPD provision, it is cloud computing that is currently the problème du jour. One of the biggest issues for teachers in this area seems to be a general lack of understanding as to what ‘cloud computing’ actually means. Speaking to John Goodier, Digital Skills Educator and founder of First Ediction, it became clear that many teachers, especially in the primary sector, simply have had no introduction to the benefits of cloud computing. John said: “The issue is, most teachers have heard of cloud computing but have no idea what it is or how to use it.” This lack of understanding is not helped by the oft-confusing branding and product explanations used by edtech companies. Sam Blyth, Director of Schools, FE and Learning Providers at Canvas, said: “Adding to lack of clarity is ‘cloud washing’, or the attempt by some vendors to rebrand an old product or service by using ‘cloud’ as a buzzword.” 

So how can CPD address these problems? And how do the problems themselves affect the way that training and development is accessed by educators? Two of the biggest issues in the rollout of CPD are funding and time restraints. Quite often, teachers are keen to take part in CPD programmes, but do not have access to the budget and/or time to do so. Alison Ryan, Senior Policy Advisor for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), posed some questions to the members of the ATL, and despite sending questions to a few hundred educators, received only 19 replies. This is not unusual, she explained: “Few people take surveys, because frankly they’ve got so many calls on their time already.” If then, teachers are too busy to answer a survey, surely dedicating a fair chunk of their time to CPD is nigh-on impossible? Time restrictions certainly have a huge impact on access to training, Alison said: “Access to CPD generally, including the use of tech within CPD, is not what it should be; partly because of lack of time, partly because of [lack of] funding.”  

Can cloud computing help in the delivery of CPD, then? If teachers don’t have to physically travel to courses, or put aside a set block of time for it, instead relying on always-ready cloud-hosted online courses, does access become easier? Only sometimes, said David Weston of the Teacher Development Trust, but pursuit of online CPD largely has to come from personal drive: “I think there are now a lot of people who will naturally say ‘How do I do that? I’ll look on YouTube.’ So the stance of some people will have changed, but some people will be not necessarily looking out for themselves.” The fact that there is very rarely a school- or college-wide system in place to ensure effective and efficient CPD, is an issue for many teachers who are less confident in seeking out their own training or instruction. 

However, there are certainly many pros to online CPD, and the flexibility of access is a large draw, said David: “You can follow your own task, you can do it at your own pace, and you can do it in your own time.” Ruben Puentedura, founder and President of education consulting firm Hippasus, and creator of the SAMR model for integrating technology into learning, agrees with these online CPD benefits, and in terms of the way in which teachers are accessing CPD, he commented: “The most widespread change I have observed is the timing and frequency of teacher access to these resources, i.e. more asynchronously, on their own schedule, less tied to fixed dates and on a more ongoing/habitual basis.” This is particularly important for teachers who have packed schedules and need to slot in CPD activities between other tasks. However, this, as David mentioned, is not as beneficial for those teachers who are perhaps less confident in pursuing their own training: “The people who are already quite keen, quite enthusiastic and quite self-driven, can do even better from an online course than an in-person one in some cases, but those who are a bit less driven, a bit less confident, will maybe struggle with an online course.” 

The next question then, is how companies that are offering cloud products can help onboard this tech in classrooms themselves. Sam Blyth at Canvas commented that tech providers have a responsibility to ensure that their products are helping teachers: “We believe that IT experts, like us, have a duty to demystify the tech and to provide clarity for educators.” John Goodier also professed the sentiment that teachers cannot be expected to succeed in CPD efficiently by themselves. He suggested that an external professional is the most effective way of providing training: “If the move to the cloud is going to be successful then schools need to have a mentor, someone who knows the system and is keen to support staff and students,” he said. 

This connection with others is an essential element that was raised throughout many of the conversations I have had concerning CPD. For instance, when considering the relative merits of online CPD, David Weston raised the importance of peer engagement: “That kind of peer support, and peer pressure, can be useful. Essentially [with online courses] you’re much more isolated, even if you do have someone online who you can engage with. We have evolved to really connect and get a rapport with people through that face-to-face connection.” Alison Ryan concurred, and commented: “One of the key benefits that people get from training is not just from whomever is leading the session, but what they learn from each other.” 

This back-and-forth capability of organic face-to-face communication is also an important factor in allowing for a change of practice to come out of CPD sessions. As David mentioned, online CPD programmes are vastly more flexible in terms of when they can be accessed, than they are in terms of content and providing responsive answers. For example, in a face-to-face session, an attendee can ask any question they so please, and the instructor can address this question directly, either answering it themselves or pointing the attendee towards further useful resources. However, with an online programme, these capabilities are limited, and “it only answers the questions that it answers.” Online, cloud-hosted CPD then, is very well suited to certain tasks, and certain types of people, whereas it cannot completely replace face-to-face learning. David summed this up well: “In the same way that TV didn’t replace radio, they just fit better for certain things, certain situations. And I think that’s how we need to think about online delivery as well.”

It is this implementation of CPD content then, that is the ultimate required outcome. This could be through online or face-to-face training, or even a hybrid system of the two, but either way, there needs to be some provision of time and budget to allow for teachers to actually access it. As Alison said: “[Teachers] can go on the best course, the most inspiring thing in the world, whether it’s online or face-to-face, but if it doesn’t give an opportunity to change practice, if there’s not an element of ‘we’ll take this and apply it in the school,’ then actually it won’t necessarily have a big impact on practice, and that’s what we need to get right.”