In my own school, and I suspect in many others, each summer holiday sees the introduction of more and more ICT equipment.
By Ruth Bradbury
Over the last three years alone we have managed to create five new computer suites and a schoolwide wireless network; install 30 interactive whiteboards and purchase and commission over 300 laptops for staff and sixth formers. These developments have involved substantial sums of money – much of it from budgets which could have been spent on staffing, books or other equipment. The theory behind this level of spending is that the integration of technology into teaching and learning will improve classroom practice, engage learners and thus raise standards of attainment. And it is certainly true that there are many examples of excellent practice in the use of ICT in the classroom. Creatively used, an interactive whiteboard can add much to a lesson, giving students the chance to participate, and using sound and video clips to bring ideas to life. Similarly, internet access and availability of PCs and laptops will encourage independent learning and research, enabling students to find out more in an hour than most of us could have done in a week when we were at school. Subject-specific software can provide the opportunity to compose and record electronic music, model a science experiment or view the internal workings of the human body. Suddenly, learning is not just about reading books and listening to one teacher talking at the front of the class: it is about participation and creativity as well, and there is no doubt that this makes it more accessible and inclusive to more students with different learning styles and preferences than ever before. Whilst ICT has great potential as a classroom tool, it is sometimes too easy to forget that it is only a tool and that it will be of little or no value unless it is operated by somebody who knows how to use it. Most schools may have their expert practitioners in all things technical, it is true, but many will also have a depressing number of staff who will do almost anything to avoid touching a computer, let alone using one to deliver a lesson. In order to get the most out of their (significant) investment in ICT, then, schools need to ensure that they have plans in place to develop the skills of their teaching staff to put the equipment to good use. One of the most effective methods of doing this would be to create a desire for IT literacy in those staff who do not currently possess it. This can be done, for example, through interactive demonstrations from existing staff that are immediately followed up by introductory training sessions. At the same time, school systems and processes could gradually be developed so that it becomes harder and harder for a member of staff to avoid using a computer. The introduction of electronic registration, for example, or of a requirement for word-processed reports could work here, as could a computerised behaviour management system or a web-based staff briefing. A third approach could involve a school-wide insistence on the inclusion of ICT-related targets in performance management for all staff, the inclusion of ICT aspects in departmental development plans, and even the timetabling of every teacher in an ICT suite once a week. Finally, the school could appoint technically proficient individuals (from the support staff as well as the teaching staff) as ICT mentors for staff who are particularly reluctant or anxious, to support and encourage them in their progress. Not every approach will work with every individual, of course, and there will always be one or two people who will resist to the bitter end. Nevertheless, a school-wide commitment to ensuring the ICT literacy of its staff, combined with a multi-pronged approach combining incentives, encouragement and a bit of coercion will help the majority of staff improve their skills. It will also ensure that the financial investment will provide a return in terms of student (and teacher) engagement and achievement.