by Lou Mycroft (PDNorth Digital Lead)
Some years ago, I was part of a team running digital CPD for educators. We were consistently struck by the same thing – for every person enthusiastically getting their phone out at the front of the class, there was another sitting at the back with their arms folded (sometimes glaring at us). Later, one of us asked if we’d managed to get through to the ‘Folded Arms Brigade’. The name stuck and FAB was born.
We wanted to understand what was underlying some educators’ resistance to bringing digital into their practice. With support from the ETF’s practitioner research programme we ran a series of action research projects between 2014-17. We used Thinking Environment interviews to dig deep into what limited people’s engagement with digital and tested a series of interventions to try and get educators over the hump.
Our findings led us to the FAB (Folded Arms Brigade) Model of Digital Resilience:
We have used the FAB Model consistently since, in one-to-one ‘digital nursing’ (see below) and in group training sessions. It is not an artificial construct. It fell out of what people told us about how digital made them feel and react. The point of FAB is digital agency: getting people to the point where not only do they feel fluent in a single platform, app or device, but they have faith that that they can carry some of that fluency over to the next programme, app or device.
For any given digital challenge, each of the four FAB elements needs to be addressed in turn; of course an individual may be working on a number of digital challenges at once.
Interviewing digitally resistant educators was a humbling experience. We had not realised how powerfully jargon blocked individuals from pushing on. One educator told us they couldn’t make sense of the word ‘icon’: “that’s something you worship in church.” Another said they had painstakingly rewritten an important document because a colleague had “saved it to the cloud. I mean, where is this cloud?”
As human beings, once we feel excluded from something, the defences go up. We learned to invest time in exploring language, before going onto devices.
Many of the educators we interviewed got stuck at this stage. They did not have, could not figure out, or were not willing to admit a purpose for what they were being asked to do. Resistant feelings often channelled into panic at this stage. We spoke to people who lacked confidence around the simplest digital processes at work, but who said breezily, “I’m on Facebook all the time.” Facebook is one sophisticated platform, even for the unwary, so the issue was never about capability. It was about each individual finding in each platform, app or device a purpose which was meaningful to them.
No purpose = no point.
Standard digital support did not get a good press in our research. Whether well-meaning colleagues, IT technicians or the grandkids, the majority of educators we interviewed had bad experiences of asking for help. Reflections ranged from, “they went too fast for me” to “they made me feel stupid”. Whatever good intentions, it was evident that the ‘knowledgeable expert’ could be counter-productive.
We tested the concept of the “digital nurse”, a different blend of know-how and empathy: a digitally confident individual who doesn’t know everything (but knows how to google) and knows they can figure things out if they push on through. Later research really brought home the power of digitally nursing in groups – rather than one-to-one – to avoid creating dependency.
We defined fluency not as knowing everything, but as knowing how to get by, a bit like getting around on holiday with conversational French. To be digitally fluent means pushing on through, following FAB processes and knowing how to get help.
Once ‘FAB’ fluency is established in one area, digital confidence can be applied to other programmes, apps and devices. Transferability is not 100%;there are new First Principles to explore and Purposes to establish, but the individual is on their way up in terms of their digital agency overall.
The later projects identified five additional FAB principles:
- Apply active language
Simple stuff, but if you say, “it won’t let me in,” you’re maybe giving up, whereas, “I can’t get in” gives you the chance to try again.
- Challenge limiting assumptions
Fitting with the Thinking Environment approach to interviews, which is all about identifying and overturning untrue limiting assumptions, we encouraged participants – and ourselves! – to identify resistance and take a few moments figure out what might be happening.
- Become a digital nurse
As we have seen, digital nursing is about knowing just enough, and about knowing how to bring ease to digital learning. One of the joys of this work is in seeing educators digitally nurse one another – not as experts, but as critical friends.
- Go the long way round
We learned that one thing nervous educators quickly learned to do was bookmark, which of course means that once a bookmark was lost – because of an upgrade, or switching to a new device – the source was also lost. Going the long way round means using a search engine or typing in the URL until a neural pathway is formed. Combined with good password ‘hygiene’ (using a phone app such as Keeper), this proved to be a powerful principle for developing digital confidence.
- Use your own device
Learning to harness the power of the ‘computer in your pocket’ – away from organisational firewalls – affords educators with a glimpse into what might be possible – and the chance to explore ways of making the possible safe.
When we stumbled over FAB we had no idea of where it would take us. Education is awash with ‘models’, many of which turn out to be the Emperor’s New Clothes when you try to apply them to real-life. FAB really works. Please do get in touch if you want to explore how it might work for you.
- These are published in various places, please contact email@example.com or @loumycroft if you want to read some more.
- A set of processes which enable people to do their best thinking. See Nancy Kline, More Time to Think (2009).