By @SimonCocking

Interview with Fred Boss  Art teacher, now Education Officer with NCCA . 

How was 2014, what went well?

2014 was a very good year. The year previously I had moved from the PDST Technology in Education service, where I was working in teacher CPD around the integration of technology into learning and teaching to my current role as an Education Officer with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The NCCA advises the Minister for Education and Skills on curriculum and assessment from early childhood to the end of second level. The NCCA engages with learners, teachers, practitioners, parents and others to support innovation in schools and other educational settings and undertakes, uses and shares research as a basis for advice and debate on education. My remit is to work as part of the new Junior Cycle team on all developments around the new Junior Cycle. However, I also got to return to my first love, which is Art as I am leading the work on developing the new Junior Cycle Art, Craft, Design specification. Before that, I was an Art teacher for 18 years in De La Salle College, Dundalk.

In my own time I also moderate the online discussion for educators in Ireland (and sometimes with welcome educators and visitors to it from abroad) called #edchatie on Twitter. The #edchatie discussion has been going since March 7th, 2011. It is held every Monday night between 8.30-9.30pm and involves a mix of educators from primary, post primary and third level. How it runs is very simple: the Wednesday before the discussion a call goes out to everyone on the #edchatie hashtag to submit topics. By Friday all topics submitted are then open to everyone to vote on. The winning vote is announced at noon on the Monday of the discussion and the discussion then takes place that evening, live and online through Twitter.

The #edchatie discussions don’t just end after the hour, however, and all of the discussions are saved and published for all to read later at their leisure. The discussions can sometimes be very fast-flowing, so a lot of people have appreciated this feature. All of the past discussions are available online at the #edchatie wiki.

One of the 2014 highlights was the discussion with the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD (@JanOSullivanTD). This time, in order to enable the discussion, the #edchatie community submitted the questions they would like to ask and then voted on these with the top four questions becoming the topics for discussion on the night. It was great to see that they covered a range of topics effecting all three levels of education. You can view the transcript here.

The Teaching Council @TeachingCouncil are very active on Twitter and have engaged with the #edchatie community over many topics. We held a special #edchatie on the 15th June, 2015, on their latest consultation around the new national framework for teachers’ learning, Cosán. You can view the transcript of this discussion here.

I always say that I should have changed the time of the #edchatie discussion from 8.30-9.30pm on a Monday night because it takes up a lot more space in the limited 140 character tweet when compared to 8-9pm, for example. But, as #edchatie has been running for over four years now, I think people like the definite time it’s at and are used to creating that hour in their own lives. It’s really great that so many educators make the conscious decision to get involved in what has evolved to become recognised as a quality, peer-led, informal hour of CPD.

The main plan is to maintain the Monday night discussions. I always wonder, when I type in the first tweet at 8.30 that starts “Welcome to tonight’s #edchatie and as usual, before we begin, please introduce yourself”, if there is anyone out there tonight. But then, all of a sudden, the tweets start to appear and after five minutes we’re engaged in the discussion topic itself.

One thing I would like to do is get more people involved in moderating the discussion. We do run some special #edchatie discussions too during the year, say for EU Code Week and around events like Excited.ie and the Computer Education Society of Ireland’s (www.cesi.ie) annual conference. We will be holding a special #edchatie for the upcoming Maths Week this October.

Also, based on the discussion we held with the Minister, I would like to see more specific discussions with people around their own work in education, around pedagogy, educational research and action research too. I’m always on the look-out for new topics and people to talk to online and Twitter has enabled a lot of these meetings and discussions.

What’s your background, what lead you into what you are now doing?

As I mentioned above, my first 18 years in the workforce was as an Art teacher in De La Salle College, Dundalk (www.delasalle.ie). It was during my time there that I also became one of the “Computer teachers” and so that started my journey into educational technology. I started to work with European Schoolnet (www.eun.org) on their Spring Day and other ICT projects. It was great to meet with teachers from around Europe and work to a common goal as well as to involve and connect many schools from our own countries.

My work with the EUN then led me to working with the PDST Technology in Education (formerly the National Centre for Technology in Education, NCTE). I was involved in designing and managing both face-to-face and online CPD courses for primary and post primary teachers in Ireland. It was around this time that a colleague also persuaded me to join CESI, where I’ve met some amazing educators who also share a love of integrating ICT in learning and teaching.

I then moved to work with NCCA, where, as well as leading the development of the new Junior Cycle Art, Craft, Design specification, I’m also working on the Coding short course. There’s a lot of work involved in all areas of the Junior Cycle, so as part of the team, I’m kept very busy, either with online or “real world” work.

One very exciting development that I’m part of a team for is the Student Voice Initiative. Students are the one group that are actually experiencing education now and yet they are rarely consulted about their experiences of education. Student Voice involves listening authentically to students and part of this comes through discussing their ideas of what education is and could be. The NCCA have been building in Student Voice research to its work on curriculum and assessment and it has proven to be an invaluable resource.

What tech would you like to see being used to help with education?

I like an open approach to education. I feel that the information, the factual content knowledge, is already available in many forms to teachers and students. Facts can be Googled, but students need to be able to judge which facts are real on the internet. This is where a teacher can help them to develop this skill, while they are learning through their usual subject lessons.

I would also like to see students using ICT in a seamless way across many platforms. I think this is possible when it comes to some types of information but whatever platform a school/student uses, I think it’s important that the student, who is creating their own learning online, by writing reports, essays, poems, uploading images and videos, is also able to access this information after they are finished in their primary or post primary school. It’s important that they can save all of their learning in a readable and accessible format after this time.

Anything else to add / we should have asked you?

I really need to take this opportunity to thank my family, who have put up with me wolfing down a dinner in order to make it to a computer every Monday night for the last four and a half years. They have given me the time to do something that I love and for that I love them all the more.

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