Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Greatest Challenge – Improving Teacher ICT Awareness and Skills!

Since the first focus on using ICT in classrooms the need to increase the awareness of and improve skills in the use of technology for all staff, particularly teachers, has been of universal concern.  In fact this has probably been of concern forever, it’s just the change driven by technology and the increasing rate of that change has highlighted deficiencies in these areas.

I’ve been attending ICT focused Conferences for more than 10 years and this topic has been of interest to all attendees.  My discussions with many schools from all types of demographics and budgets has highlighted a few methods to deliver Professional Development to staff.

Method 1 – On site training delivered by an ICT specialist during teacher down time (Lunch time or after school).  This is almost certainly the cheapest form of PD for the school to produce.  The ICT specialist can either be from within staff or arranged through a vendor.  This type of session is normally voluntary and the value is greatest for staff already implementing technology.

Method 2 – On site training with teacher relief provided for staff or PD is conducted during Professional Development days.  The cost of this is increased as the staff costs for the relief teachers need to be covered by the school or it is competing for access against the myriad of requirements on any staff PD day.  This type of training is normally mandatory for staff.

Method 3 – Just in time support.  In this circumstance a teacher will have support in their classroom for using the technology.  This could either be in the form of a technical support person assisting the teacher and showing them how to deal with issues or with a curriculum ‘expert’ assisting with the implementation and transferring skills to the teacher.  This is probably the most effective way for teachers to be supported in the adoption of technology as it is entirely at a practical level.  It does require staff to be available as needed by teachers.  In this scenario there’s a need for the teacher to reach out so the communication path of other types of PD is reversed. 

Method 4 – Off site PD.  This type of PD is readily available and includes those run by vendors, peak bodies and in some cases, schools.  Most times there’s a cost for this type of PD and the need for relief. 

All of these methods have issues which limit their effectiveness.

Method 1 – (Free on site) Often training which is ‘free’ is deemed to have no value and therefore little importance is placed on attending this type of session.  As this is dependent upon staff committing to use their time to come to the training the pressure to attend is less than the need to deal with other issues so the PD is easily pushed aside by any urgent matter.  I have seen PD sessions like this timetabled for entire terms in order to enable planning for teachers, often only two or three sessions out of more than 30 have anyone attend.  At other times when they’re directly supporting a new technology, such as when we rolled out Interactive Projectors, they’re very popular, well attended and give great value.

Method 2 – (Paid on site) There’s a limit to how often this type of training is used.  Either the cost or just the number of PD days limits the number of opportunities to utilise this type of training.  Of course it would be good practice to have this included in a technology project plan when deploying classroom technology.  In my experience schools are very sensitive about the cost of IT projects, this means that normally the implementation stage of these projects is curtailed to reduce costs.  In turn the loss of the implementation stage reduces the amount committed to training.  Most vendors of IT equipment into schools will have allowance for training as part of their plan.  When the school reduces the training it will slow the adoption of technology, which almost always leads to slower adoption of new technologies.

Method 3 – (Just in time) There are two main factors limiting the adoption of this type of PD/support. 

The first limitation is around communication.  To properly use this method it must be sold to teachers so they know what’s available.  Staff should know they can call up and have someone come and look after them whenever they need.  Often this is not the expectation with teaching staff.  The other communications issue is; teachers need to let the support person know when and where they will need them and also what they’re needed for.

The second limitation is the resourcing problem.  How do you have a staff member on-call with suitable skills?  If the school has acknowledged the need for staff support with technology implementation this will be provided, however if the expectation is staff will just adopt technology, this will not be the case.

Method 4 – (Off site) The appeal in the off-site PD is to those who are already interested in adopting technology.  It’s self-selecting, doesn’t get the vast majority of teachers involved and the goal of complete adoption of technology will never be realised if this is the only type of PD available.

Each of these methods has shown to be less than ideal, but when combined in the right balance can lead teachers to have confidence in the implementation of technology in their classroom:

·        When those keen adopters of technology are given the opportunity for off-site training, they bring those skills back to provide on-site PD to others, just as importantly they then become advocates for the technology.

·        When teachers are well supported for both the technical and curriculum aspects of technology in their classroom, when the school is willing to persevere to improve the confidence and skills of their staff in the use of technology, there will be continuous improvement in the classroom use of technology.

The efforts to provide staff with the skills to embed technology into the classroom will not reduce any time soon.  The changes in teaching practice being driven by technology are likely to continue for the foreseeable future and so will the need to build skills.