ICT can help teachers' continuing professional development (CPD) through the use of websites, CD-ROMS and DVDs, explains Cheryl Instan-Smith
Continuing professional development (CPD) among teachers is seen as something of a buzzword between education professionals, but what is it and are we doing it? Becta established that CPD refers to the process by which teachers acquire and develop the skills and knowledge to become effective in the classroom (Becta, 2004). Teachers are aware that developing their own knowledge, understanding and practice helps in both their learning and their teaching. Therefore, it is common sense that CPD leads to better teachers. Most teachers already appreciate the importance of CPD to effective teaching and learning, and all teachers will attend some courses during their career.
Of all the professions, teachers are certainly continually learning – but are expensive courses the only way forward for CPD? Courses not only drain schools funds, but are time-consuming. Formal courses also do not allow the learner to take things at their own pace – control is given over to the course leader for a day or more – and surely it would be better for teachers to take charge of their own development?
Can ICT help CPD?
One way that teachers can take control of their own professional development is through the use of ICT – hardware or software. Through the careful use of purposefully designed websites, CD-ROMs and/or DVDs, teachers can absorb new knowledge and understanding at their own pace, plan the integration of their new skills into their teaching, and continually develop as professionals. Teachernet recognises that ‘professional development in the use of ICT in teaching and leaning is essential if schools are to realise their investment in ICT’. This does not just mean that teachers have to use ICT in the classroom, but that it can be used to facilitate their own professional development.
There is, if course, a huge number of ways in which ICT can aid teachers in both their teaching and learning. These vary from specific support, advice and software, to more wide-ranging initiatives which can be accessed via the internet. Online forums allow teachers to share best practice and discuss new ideas and developments in teaching, and resources specifically developed for CPD are available from many different companies. Although there is usually a cost involved in purchasing CPD resources, the price of a CD-ROM-based support package is often cheaper than the cost of a formal training course.
Becta has long known that some teachers’ competence in ICT is low and this means that many teachers shy away from using ICT to help their own learning. An excellent study in 1998 found that by giving teachers a multimedia portable they not only used it in the classroom, but also used them at home to continue work they were doing at school such as planning and creating resources. However, the study did identify an age-old problem, support. The teachers who were supported by colleagues and friends found the multimedia portables easier to use and most of all, more useful.
Many teachers are still faced with woefully poor ICT support in schools. It is one thing for the government to fund the availability of laptops and interactive whiteboards in schools, but it is a very different thing to give teachers the support and training needed to get the best out of these ‘digital’ tools. Teachers already have enormous demands on their time, we cannot just give teachers tools and then leave them to their own devices to work out how to get the best out of them. The use of hardware in professional development has still not been fully utilised. While many teachers now routinely connect their laptops to their classrooms’ interactive whiteboards to access lesson planning and resources, there is a world of CPD support that can also be accessed through the same lap tops – and the government needs to urgently focus on this area.
Although the government needs to offer much more to help teachers in using ICT for their own professional development, this is not to say that some resources and guidance are not already available. For all teachers wanting to use ICT to help with their professional development then the first stop must be the DCSF website. The DCSF has recently launched ‘Reach’, a CPD resource (previously known as the practical support pack). It is hoped that it will develop teachers’ expertise and confidence in teaching a particular subject. ‘Reach’ is an online collection of lesson content, lesson plans, multimedia resources and ICT support materials designed to help teachers develop their teaching practice using ICT. It gives teachers the opportunity to try out new ideas and new ways of teaching familiar topics in many different subjects. The materials include lesson plans, classroom resources and practical advice written by experts in teaching literacy using ICT. An added advantage with this CPD pack is that it also contains an online action plan where you are able to build your own action plan, evaluate what you have achieved and it also has a journal to log any CPD work you have carried out.
An area where ICT can truly aid continuing professional development is the teaching of subjects that require specialist knowledge. Some subjects (such as science or languages) fill some teacher’s hearts with terror – as they require high levels of knowledge and understanding, and some very specific skills. After all, how easy is it to teach French if you don’t speak a word? With subjects like this, software can not only offer specialist guidance, but also build all-important confidence.
One subject that lends itself to the use of ICT for the teacher and the class is science. There is a vast range of software (CD-based and online) for teachers of science, and an excellent example is ‘School Science’, which is the online guide to teaching and learning in science from the Association for Science Education. According to Rebecca Dixon-Watmough who leads www.schoolscience.co.uk, this website is ‘a guide for teachers to teaching and learning in science. It brings together lots of organisations who support science, saving teachers valuable time’. The site features a plethora of ideas and support materials for science teachers. One resource of particular note is ‘Talking Science – Engaging Science’ by Brenda Keogh and Stuart Nailer. The pack contains two puppets for each age range (5–7, 7–9 or 9–11), a storybook and animated CD-ROM in which the age-related puppets are the main characters. The pack also offers guidance on how to use puppets and stories effectively through various training sessions. While this pack is not free, it is available through local authorities and/or science learning centres at a highly subsidised rate. You can contact your local authority science adviser or visit the project’s website at www.puppetsproject.com for more information.
An area which always seems to threaten the non-specialist in teaching is modern foreign languages (MFL). The most popular MFL to be taught in primary schools is French (although Spanish is becoming more and more popular in schools). The idea of planning and delivering a French lesson can send even the most confident teacher into a spiral of panic.
However many schools have identified the teaching of MFL as an area needing special support. For example, Downs Primary school in Kent identified that, ‘Teaching French is an area where many teachers we spoke to wanted support’. (Mrs Karunaratna, headteacher, 2008). So, with the help of an excellent teacher, they decided to provide links on their website. These links allow teachers to explore a variety of ways to start teaching French to Key Stage 2 pupils and help to inspire confidence in their own abilities. As well as being an excellent resource for teachers, the added benefit of this type of resource is that parents and children are also able to access all the materials. This means there are no site licences and best of all – no cost. There are lots of other schools offering resources to teach French (and other specialist subjects) on their own websites. So, before parting with valuable budget, take some time to search the internet – you will be amazed at the software-based resources you can find to improve your own practice.
With the use of ICT, whether hardware or software, teachers can develop specific areas of need, without having to sit through the boring bits! They are also able to develop their own learning at a pace they find suitable – not too fast, not too slow. Over the years I have found a number of aids to CPD, whether online, CD-ROMs or DVDs. All of these and many more are available to everyone in education. It just may take a few minutes of searching or a conversation between colleagues to find out about a particular area of interest. As ICT enables teaching professionals to take control of their own development, it can only be a good thing.