I Tweeted a few weeks ago that I had written my final blog for this space. So why is there a new post up here? I have shifted my efforts into a new project (www.LearningBlocksEdu.co.uk) which is gathering pace rapidly with new resources and ideas being volunteered faster than my limited web design skills can cope with publishing them (any donations of web design skills would be gratefully appreciated). So why have I made the shift and what does the future hold? Let’s talk about money!
Money makes the world go round! However, not once did money come into the discussion when I decided to become a teacher! I became a teacher because I believe absolutely that the route out of social and economic deprivation for young people lies in education. I have taught in some of the most deprived areas of the UK for my entire career and have seen first-hand the baggage that some of our young people carry with them. I teach in a classroom and face learners every day. They don’t carry a filter to their barriers and baggage in my school! So, I break down their barriers, build their trust and care enough about them to compensate for when they don’t think anyone in their life does. As a school we buy them breakfast, we pay for support to help them through the challenges of daily life and we pay for their involvement in opportunities their parents cannot afford among myriad other strategies to ensure their life is not hindered by the opportunity of education.
I teach today in the same school and the same classroom I learned English in 20 years ago as a student and the building hasn’t changed much in that time. A lick of paint maybe (many years ago) and a data projector added to the front of the room (the image doesn’t fit the interactive board to the point of being unusable). Our IT facilities perished in a fire last summer and we expect a rebuild to be completed by Christmas (which Christmas is open to some debate). But I still see us as “the privileged”; maybe not in comparison to other UK schools and the ones I see colleagues teaching in around the world but on a more global scale we are truly privileged.
Some time ago I dabbled with the idea of turning my education skills, knowledge and innovation into a monetizable commodity. Could I really become an “EdTechPreneur”? I have good friends that have made a career for themselves outside the classroom by monetizing their skills, selling their resources or charging for their services. I admire them. I admire their commitment, their innovations and their sheer guts to go out there and do it. But I admire many more educators out there that share freely, openly and with no expectation of a return. This isn’t intended as a judgement on either philosophy. I am simply relating my decision to my own circumstances. Every time I see a new EdTech “start-up” consultancy or product I ask myself two key questions: “Can I do this a different way for free?” and “Is this worth more than breakfast to my learners starting the day with nothing?”. They drive my innovation and ground my expectations in equal measures.
During my dabblings into the field of “EdTechPreneur”, I did some soul searching. The question “Why am I a teacher?” kept rearing its head. I just couldn’t justify the charge. I was once offered payment for a training session I ran but felt so guilty about charging for my help that I never chased the invoice. At that point I knew that “EdTechPreneur” wasn’t for me. Every penny I charged for my skills, experience and ideas would be money that had to be diverted from other areas of the school budget. Education is not a bottomless pit of financial resources and neither is it a commodity to be exploited. For the learners I work with it is a life line, a future and a key to a life better than the one they have lived so far.
Minecraft in Education
Minecraft is one of the most innovative and revolutionary learning platforms that has entered the classroom for many years. My classroom has always been a “hackable” space. What do I want to add to my classroom? What would my learners benefit from most? I don’t care what it was designed to do; what CAN it do? I displayed my laptop screen on a TV before interactive whiteboards and data projectors came along, I strapped a top down webcam to a metre ruler taped to the side of a desk in order to display live student work before Visualisers were even a thing and I used Minecraft in my classroom at a time when video games were being debated as “addictive distractions” from learning not “immersive engagement” tools. I like to think I played a small part in paving the pathway for Minecraft into mainstream learning environments.
I wasn’t the first but I was always a vocal innovator when it came to Minecraft in Education. I tried things I thought would work and failed many times (I’ve lost track of the number of lessons that have resulted in Pikachu pixel art when the intended outcome was Viking Poetry). Every one of those “failed” lessons taught me skills, honed my planning strategies and developed my approach. I learned from and with others undertaking a similar journey. Together we collaborated, shared and supported each other.
I searched my soul again recently. In the midst of a new direction for Minecraft in Education a new wave of “EdTechPreneurs” has emerged. Each one with their own take on the “commodity” of education and the “product” of learning. I don’t sit well in this new wave. I’ve seen YouTubers ride the popularity of Minecraft as an entertainment medium then struggle when the quick fix ideas have been exhausted and they have to rely on their own creativity. I’ve seen Minecraft Map Builders become disillusioned by others making money while their genius goes unrewarded. Most worryingly I’ve seen gifted educators swamped in a torrent of overwhelming “edubabble” by “EdTechPreneurs” seeking to monetize the use of Minecraft in Education. I’ve even seen those with no teaching experience whatsoever, or with such a niche educational focus as to make their experience un-transferable, revered above those at the chalk face. To each I wish good luck with whatever direction they choose to pursue. My future lies elsewhere.
Maybe I’m too idealistic and the human race is inherently selfish in nature? Maybe my educational vision is not one shared by others? Maybe education is actually a commodity and learners and their parents really are just “clients” and “stakeholders” within a global, corporate infrastructure? Or maybe, just maybe, there are a few educators out there who share my view that learning is NOT an exploitable commodity, it is NOT just a profit margin or an audience share. There will be many unwilling to share this blog as it doesn’t fit with their own vision of the future. It is, after all, one person’s view. The new www.LearningBlocksEdu.co.uk however is gathering momentum based on the core principle that if we share freely, many benefit!
For my learners, education is about far more than the money they don’t have.