Information and communications technologies (ICT) are fast becoming an indispensable tool for teaching and learning (T&L). But some individual teachers, and in some cases whole schools, are still lagging behind in capitalising on the many benefits ICT can bring to T&L. The reasons are many and varied - but whether it be for fear of new technology, lack of resources, misconceived ideas about usefulness, or even in some cases apathy about embracing change, the people who are losing out the most are the technology-shy themselves, and as a result the students in their classrooms are not being given optimum opportunities to achieve.
So what action can curriculum managers take to change this situation? Some recent research from Becta - the ICT agency that is among the quangos the Government has said it is going to close - offers some potential solutions.
Impact of digi-teachers
One of these reports, Harnessing technology strategy: celebrating outstanding teachers (Becta, 2009), looked closely at outstanding teachers who make good use of ICT to identify common characteristics. The researchers named these enthusiastic and effective users of ICT ‘digi-teachers', and found that such staff make more of a difference than the number of computers the school owns.
So who are these ICT experts? Contrary to popular belief they are not necessarily ICT teachers - in fact, more than eight out of 10 did not have ICT as their main subject.
These expert teachers believe that technology can improve how they present their teaching material and can help them better collaborate, communicate and share resources with colleagues. Such teachers are also more likely to use ICT to arrive at creative solutions in their T&L.
They are not interested in the ‘whizzbang' factor of ICT and just see technology as another string to the bow of their expert domain of teaching, say the researchers. They also believe it is up to them to enter the students' technological world, rather than expect the students to enter theirs.
They work in schools that use technology in a variety of ways to improve T&L.
|It is sometimes surprising to think how far ICT use in schools has come in just the last decade. This month’s Case in Point takes a look at some of the key ICT development issues (here). We then hear from researchers who believe Becta has put too much store by ICT as a tool to achieve personalisation of learning, before the case study school shares how it has gone about developing a Learning Gateway that has engaged staff and parents as well as the students themselves
|Making use of ICT to improve teaching and learning
Such teachers also know how to make use of ICT to personalise learning.
|Role of ICT in personalising learning
Use of new technologies
One of the key technologies that expert teachers are making good use of is the interactive whiteboard (IWB), which brings many benefits - see below for examples.
Benefits of electronic whiteboard to T&L
They use it as a generic platform to combine different media such as video, software, the internet and so on. But the IWB cannot be successful in itself: it requires teachers to have the ability to develop a new approach to teaching and learning to make use of its interactivity. Other technologies that expert teachers are making good use of are listed below.
|Examples of most used technologies
These teachers are also the first to explore the school's virtual learning environment (VLE), using the forums, posting materials on it, sharing resources, creating coursework with a countdown clock and a podcast with instructions and so on. While extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies and social software is still rare, expert teachers are using these for such tasks as setting up Facebook groups related to a course, or using discussion forums for students to share questions with the teacher monitoring the whole process and getting involved only when needed.
These teachers recognise the power of ICT as a motivational tool and capitalise on its potential to improve classroom behaviour. They integrate ICT use in every lesson for a considerable chunk of the time, seeing it as an invaluable tool in presenting the T&L in an attractive and engaging way. They make use of having instant access to a wealth of resources via the internet to provide an immediate response to a pupil's question by finding supporting material instantly. They also like the capability to be immediately able to refer to learning from a previous lesson without having to rely on it not having been wiped off the board.
Development for the future
Many teachers would benefit from teaching assistants (TAs) who are fully conversant in ICT, so in many cases, TAs should be given more ICT training to fulfil this key role, say the researchers.
As teachers begin to see for themselves what technology can do, it moves from being a support in their T&L, through to a tool to extend it and finally to being a means of transforming their pedagogy, says the report.
Impact on personalisation
Becta also explored the difference digital technologies have made to T&L via its Understanding the impact of technology: learner and school-level factors research (Becta, 2010a). It looked in particular at what it called a school's level of ‘e-maturity': how ready it is to deal with e-learning and the degree to which this is embedded in the curriculum. The researchers found this was strongly related to the degree to which pupils perceived their learning experiences to be personalised. They acknowledged that personalisation of learning is a contentious concept. But they found that offering learners too much choice often had a detrimental effect on standards, as learners prefer to have a clear framework for their learning. Teachers taking part in the research generally thought that ICT helped in personalising learning. As one teacher put it:
At the most basic level it allows the students to differentiate work themselves to their own level, but when used correctly it allows students to discover their own learning preferences and enter a personalised world of education.
Interestingly, the students themselves reported a decline in personalised learning in Years 8, 9 and 10 when their level of engagement with learning also suffered.
Role of learning platforms
Again, IWBs were seen as a central ICT tool in T&L, and were viewed as an easy-entry technology, but were not seen as being capable of transforming practice. Use of learning platforms (LPs) was less common, and they were considered to be more problematic innovations. But when embedded in the school, the LP not only supported the existing T&L practice but also stimulated new ways of working.
The researchers acknowledged that learning platforms are still in their infancy, but the benefits they can bring makes them worth the investment. From the practice witnessed in the schools in their study, the researchers identified key characteristics of a functional LP - see below.
|Key characteristics of a functional learning platformA functional learning platform is:
The box below identifies some of the benefits an effective LP can bring to teaching and learning.
|Benefits of a LP: practice it can enable in the classroom
Becta also developed a model for adopting a learning platform - the box below summarises the five stages.
|Adopting a learning platform: stages of development
Step 1: Aware – where senior leadership begins to plan how to use the learning platform to support the school’s objectives, some staff and small groups of pupils are shown what it can do
Step 2: Develop – the school is planning to develop a learning platform based on its needs, with classroom activities using the LP beginning to emerge
Step 3: Adopt – Practice identified as effective is now extended to all areas, and evidence is emerging of it improving T&L
Step 4: Integrate – the learning platform is used as a matter of course, with pupils routinely accessing resources and completing tasks through the learning platform
Step 5: Transform – the possibilities of the learning platforms are being fully exploited, and its use continues to develop in response to the needs of the learner, supporting personalised and more independent learning
Learning platforms: steps to adoption - a step-by-step guide for schools (Becta, 2010b) details what each step involves and identifies what action schools should be working towards at each stage.
Developed well, the learning platform has the power to transform learning, says the document. Such transformational learning is essential for the 21st century. In fully functional LP classrooms, learners will be able to experiment and model in a virtual environment as a form of problem-solving, adopt online identities for improvisation and discovery, interpret and simulate real situations, use tools that extend experience, follow the flow and sequence of information across different types of media and work with people from a range of communities, respecting their different perspectives and understanding alternative points of view - a vision for the future of learning that all schools should be aspiring to.
Access Harnessing technology strategy: celebrating outstanding teachers by Andrew Goodwyn, Aristidis Protopsaltis, and Carol Fuller (Becta, 2009), Understanding the impact of technology: learner and school-level factors by Jean Underwood, Thomas Baguley, Phil Banyard, Gayle Dillon, Lee Farrington-Flint, Mary Hayes, Gabrielle Le Geyt, Jamie Murphy and Ian Selwood, Nottingham Trent University and University of Birmingham (Becta, 2010a), and Learning platforms: steps to adoption - a step-by-step guide for schools (Becta, 2010b) via: www.becta.org.uk
As CMU went to press, it was still unclear whether Becta's education resources would continue to be made available by the Department for Education, and what, if any ICT education service, would be provided as a replacement when it closes in November.