Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Is The Best Model for Teacher ICT Professional Development?

A 2001 report to the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training  made sweeping recommendations regarding models of pre-service and teacher ICT professional development (PD). It begins by noting that since 1990, school systems have pursued strategies related to professional development in ICT without challenging the purpose and functions of schooling in relation to a changing world (2001, p.10). In addressing the need for timely ICT PD, the writers list critical factors in effective ICT use in schools as being people, infrastructure, content and services, supporting policies and regulation. It may be argued that people are the most critical of these factors as spending on hardware, software and training alone has proven to be ineffective (2001, p.58) in terms of changing teachers' behaviours. It is through mentoring and collaboration that teachers are able to share, reflect and develop local personal learning communities to support their learning (2001, p.53). While the report suggests that teacher training in ICT needs to be linked to broader issues of school reform (2001, p.22) with students needing to become “apprentice knowledge workers”  and teachers “expert knowledge workers” in order to adapt to future needs, the same model could equally be applied to teachers and teacher training. The claim (2001, p.25) that curriculum change is the most effective way to change teaching practices seems doubtful in the light of evidence that the heart of change lies in pedagogical practice and teachers' need to redefine their fundamental beliefs about the nature of learning.

In terms of pre-service training, research cited (2001, p.33) suggests that the best models integrate the use of ICT across courses rather than teaching them separately. But again, the problem of a lack of connection between pre-service education and school systems and a lack of valid and meaningful examples of ICT in school classrooms, again emphasises the importance of people in the equation and the need for apprenticeship type models of pre-service training. The authors however, point out that there is little evidence that this apprenticeship approach is commonly employed in systems worldwide (2001, p.49).

In terms of ICT PD, one-off courses for teachers such as TILT, have been shown to be ineffective in several studies but still these methods persist (2001, p.51). It is pointed out that alternatives such as Personal Learning Communities are difficult to sustain and work best at the local level. This again supports the assertion that ICT mentors or coaches need to work within schools and support learning communities operating at a school level. The mentor model can meet all of the requirements dictated by this research (2001, p.58):
  • Experiential, engaging teachers in concrete tasks
  • Grounded in inquiry, reflection
  • Collaborative and Interactional with a focus on shared knowledge among educators and a focus on teachers' communities of practice.
  • Connected to and derived from teachers' work with their students
  • Sustained, ongoing and intensive, supported by modelling coaching and collective problem solving around specific problems of practice.
  • Connected to other aspects of school change integrated with a comprehensive change process.
The report concludes (2001, p.71) that there is little evidence of effective assessment of ICT skills and abilities of teachers and this further emphasises the importance of coordination of training investments at all levels to ensure systems are getting good value for money. These investments need to be based on a set of clearly understood standards that this report states are absent from these investments (2001, p.80). Barriers to PD in schools in general (2001, p.75) such as administrators' views that any time teachers spend away from classrooms is to the detriment of student achievement, point to the need for a rethink of the nature of learning and what constitutes teaching. Teachers cannot embrace the view of students being life-long learners, if they themselves are not given opportunities for learning. There is also a need to create strong links between school systems and to pre-service systems at all levels and to adopt pre-service models that allow for more apprenticeship-style training for teachers.

A system of pre-service apprenticeships with trainees spending 3 days a week in classrooms and 2 days in teacher education courses with student teachers employed as teachers' aids, but with rights to monitor classes, would support recommendations made by this report (2001, p.81) and allow teachers more:
  • Opportunities to reflect on their own practice through their modelling to student teachers
  • Time away from the classroom to engage in reflection.
  • Support for increasing adult to child ratios in the classroom.
  • Opportunities to meet with peers during the working week for the purpose of sharing ideas and solving problems.
Such a system for pre-service teacher training would also free up resources in schools, thereby creating conditions for school-based roving ICT mentors to support communities of practice.

References

Toni Downes; Andrew Fluck; Pam Gibbons; Ralph Leonard; and others, (2001) Making better connections: models of teacher professional development for the integration of information and communication technology into classroom practice. Available at: http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/school_education/publications_resources/profiles/making_better_connections.htm#authors [Accessed June 16, 2010].

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Primary Students' Perceptions of School ICT Use: Exploration or Restriction?

Are primary school students disengaged from learning as a result of  School ICT use? Recent studies by Selwyn (2009, 2009b) shed some light on this question. Firstly, one study (2009) analyses students' drawing of ICT use:

 “drawing can be seen as an inherently child-centred procedure,  with the non-verbal nature of drawings freeing the child to express emotions and  attitudes that would be otherwise difficult to assess" (see also Fury et al., 1997;  MacPhail & Kinchin, 2004 quoted in Selwyn 2009).
 
Secondly, Selwyn has concentrated on surveying student perceptions of ICT use both at home and school and considers the relationships between these two types of use. His work depicts a bleak picture for primary students in these studies, disengaged from ICT use at school and with no evidence of the transforming and empowering influence of classroom ICT use often claimed by education technology commentators. Various important themes emerge from these works:
  • Primary teachers are more technically confident and more likely to make regular use of ICT in their teaching than their secondary school counterparts (Barker & Gardiner, 2007; BESA, 2007 quoted in Selywn 2009b) but there is a strong sense school ICT use being shaped by the nature of individual schools.
  • The dominant school mode of ICT engagement is direct instruction rather than construction of knowledge, with computer work mainly involving writing-up , making presentations and, for  older children, spreadsheet and database work (2009b, p. 928)
  • There was a lack of evidence of the use of Web 2.0 applications both inside and outside of school. This strongly contrasts the hype about "digital natives" collaborating on the Internet.
  • Importing popular outside-school, digital practices and artefacts as a means of engaging students may actually backfire. At the same time, developing forms of classroom technology provision that fit better with the needs, values and experiences of young people is only possible through meaningful dialogues with pupils about their home use of ICT and future forms of educational ICT use.
  • In Selwyn's analysis of students' drawings of school ICT use, personal ownership, play, fun were the strongest themes to emerge from the data in terms of what students wanted in the classroom of the future. There was also a pleading tone from the students and an understanding that school restrictions of ICT such as filtered Internet access were unlikely to change. 
Clearly there is a need to reconsider the role of ICT in the primary classroom in enthusing children about learning  and examining what make some schools more successful than others in this endeavour. It may be argued that the need for personal ownership created by the one-to-one classroom model and constructivist pedagogy would lead to more engagement. The importance of establishing dialogue with students about their ICT use seems also to be important. Educators can no longer assume they know what is best for their students in terms of ICT use at school.

Selwyn, N., Boraschi, D. & Ozkula, S.M., 2009. Drawing digital pictures: an investigation of primary pupils' representations of ICT and schools. British Educational Research Journal, 35(6), 909-928.

Selwyn,N. , Potter, J. & Cranmer,S., 2009b Primary pupils’ use of information and communication
    technologies at school and home. British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 40 No 5, 919–932.