Speak Up!

I have a reputation (I feel a little unfair I must say) in Cobham Hall at least, for not really being up with the latest technology.

I will have you know in the October half term break not only did I take my Kindle with me on holiday I actually used it to read books AND send emails. Cutting edge or what? The fact that I was given it for my birthday (in March) and this was the first time I had used it is definitely more a statement about lack of opportunity rather than intent.

My Kindle saved me having to pack several heavy and luggage filling books. And let me keep up with the cricket scores. A definite improvement. I have a not dissimilar view of the use of technology in education. Does it make the lesson better? Can it be used to demonstrate/show/explain/interest better than the no/low-tech alternative? If so, no problem. I observed a Science lesson just this week where the teacher used technology to do just that, excellent.

However, I learned recently that the University of Central Lancashire will make the Meetoo smartphone app available to its 38,000 students and staff over the next two years. The purpose of this, and similar apps which are allegedly in use in other institutions already, is to allow students to send anonymous text messages with queries to a screen at the front of the lecture hall. The idea is to help those too nervous to ask questions in public in a lecture. Or to “facilitate non-intimidating learning” as some have it. Very laudable, but is this really the best way forward? Isn’t the real problem being avoided by technology?

Umpteen surveys regularly reveal the most common fear amongst the general public is fear of speaking in public. It is greater than fear of spiders, bankruptcy or even death. The comedian Jerry Seinfeld concluded that more people would prefer to be in the coffin at a funeral than in the pulpit giving the eulogy. I recently read an excellent book, ‘Playing Scared’ by the pianist Sara Solovitch, dealing with her eventual overcoming of stage fright. No hiding behind technology there (No it was not on my Kindle, but I bought it over the internet so that sort of counts).

The Meetoo app may give a nervous undergraduate temporary relief and hopefully lead to an answer to their immediate question. But the issue remains; how will this help when that same person faces a job interview or even a meeting with their lecturers and tutors to discuss their latest essay or dissertation? It is undoubtedly the role of schools and universities to prepare people for the world beyond education and that will include speaking in public.

Only a blog or two ago, I wrote of the increasing importance of being able to present points of view, explanations, arguments and so on, being stressed by both post school educators and employers. How is the University of Central Lancashire helping with that? In that same blog I referred to the number of ways in which Cobham Hall gives its girls opportunities to develop that confidence, or as one of my Drama teachers says, “To give girls a voice”.

I wrote, “It is covered formally in such subjects as Drama in Lower School and is a compulsory part of the Sixth Form’s International Baccalaureate course. But girls also take whole school Assembly, participate in Model United Nations, our Humanities Forum, act, sing and play music and stand for election for a host of leadership positions. In a couple of weeks some will be giving presentations to the large audience that will attend our Open Day.”

On some occasions, our girls and their teachers record and video themselves performing such things as sports or music. These days, thanks to technology, it can be done with a whole host of small easily used devices. Watching and then analysing yourself is an incredibly powerful tool for improving performance and, yes, confidence. Over the years I have personal experience of using just that method to improve my teaching, public speaking and performance in several sports. There are probably many (me included) who would say I need more help still, with all of those. And I will be quite willing to use technology to help solve my problems, not avoid them.

Let’s use it to develop and enhance the development of vital social skills in young people, not hinder them.


Paul Mitchell, Headmaster, Cobham Hall

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