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John Simkin

ICT in the Classroom: Current Good Practice

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We plan to hold our first E-HELP meeting in Toulouse (17th February – 20th February). The theme of the first meeting is the identification of current good practice. We hope to run part of our meeting online and would like as many people as possible to get involved in our debates.

We will be discussing the value-added aspect of ICT. What have you done (or seen done) with ICT that has improved the quality of teaching/learning, that would have been impossible/difficult to achieve without ICT?

The E-HELP team is interested in your ideas. If this thread is successful we hope to get this material published in book form.

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I first started an educational website in September 1997. The main objective was to support my teaching. At the time I was teaching a GCSE unit on local history. The idea was to explore the debate that took place in East Grinstead between 1906 and 1914 on the subject of votes for women.

To resource this unit I spent a lot of time looking at back copies of the East Grinstead Observer. Most of the information came from the letters page and reports on meetings of the NUWSS in East Grinstead. There were also a couple of local women who were supporters of the WSPU. One of these women, Kitty Marion, endured 200 force-feedings in prison during this period.

There was tremendous opposition to women’s suffrage from the local Conservative Party (one of its leading figures, Wallace Hills, was editor of the East Grinstead). The Liberal Party tended to support the NUWSS (they were very hostile to the WSPU). The local parliamentary candidate, Charles Corbett, was a member of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage and his wife (Marie Corbett) and his two daughters (Margery and Cicely) were very active in the NUWSS.

There was a serious riot in East Grinstead in 1913 when a group of youths began throwing stones at speakers at a public meeting of the NUWSS. It was later discovered that these youths had been paid by local members of the Conservative Party. They were upset that the NUWSS had joined forces with the Salvation Army to demand the vote and legislation to control the selling of alcohol in the town (there were very close links in the town with the Conservative Party and the Brewing Industry).

I was able to trace the relatives of several people included in this campaign. This included the sons of two of the campaigners, Margery Corbett and Edward Steer, the daughter of Cicely Corbett, and the granddaughter of Marie and Charles Corbett. They were able to give me photographs, letters, membership cards, newspaper clippings, etc.

I decided to produce biographies of these local people and put them on my website. Each student then were given one of these characters to study. As we only had one computer in the school with an internet connection I had to print out the pages for the student to use in the classroom. The students had to be these characters in several debates we had on women’s suffrage and related subjects. For example, these characters were deeply divided over topics such as the rules governing the local workhouse, the establishment of a park in the town for children (some did not want to increase the rates to pay maintenance costs) and the First World War.

This was a great success and got me thinking about how I could use the internet with my other classes. During my research I discovered some great newspaper reports on the First World War. We taught the subject in Year 9. I therefore photocopied these articles and letters and put them into different topics. In the early days of the war the newspaper published a large number of letters sent by men on the Western Front to their parents and wives back home. I soon had a collection of articles/letters for each person in the class. The task was to create an encyclopaedia of East Grinstead and the First World War. They had to write up their own entry for the encyclopaedia. This was provided on disc and I was then able to upload it to the school website. In this way we created a teaching resource for schools in the town. We also turned some of the work into pamphlets that we sold on parents’ evenings.

The students got a great kick from seeing their work published on the web. One boy’s father was living in Iran (he had separated from his mother). His father was able to read the boy’s work on the web. The pleasure this one boy received from this exercise justified all the time it took to organize this activity.

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This year, I've tried really hard to be more adventurous!

I've done two IT-related projects with my 11th Grade class so far this year:

As soon as I visited Richard's website a couple of years ago, I was enthused! Last year, for the first time, I tried out a Paris Peace Conference simulation, and I developed the idea further this year. Next year, I'd like to go even further and try to make the project collaborative with other schools... The project used IT in the production of a video report on the actual conference, whichcame out quite well, and, of course, in the research teams had to use to investigate "their" nation's position at the Conference.

Problems:

1. Getting sufficient access to computers either for the research or for the film editing.

2. The usual group work dynamics problems.

I also had the students research and produce Power Point presentations on technological advances and how these changed the nature of war during World War I. Some of the results were excellent.

Problems:

1. I don't know enough about Power Point!!! This meant that the students who knew what to do either because they'd previously attended schools where IT was taken more seriously, or because they were self-taught were able to produce much better work than the rest...

2. Once again, access....

With the 9th Grade group, I tried to emulate Richard's success with his French Revolution videos... with VERY mixed results!

Some of the groups produced quite imaginative projects, making full use of the medium. Others were less successful, but they all managed to rpoduce something worthwhile, and they were certainly all motivated to do some serious research.

Problems:

1. I had no idea that it was impossible to use PAL cameras with the editing software we use! Apparently, since we're an American school, even though we're in Europe, some bright spark decided we should use NTSC... This meant that groups which decided to overcome the hardware shortage by bringing dad's camera from home couldn't load their film on to the computer... A silly problem, but it had a VERY time-consuming solution and had the entire tech dept (2 people) stumped for an entire day...

2. I should have been much stricter about planning story boards and producing detailed shooting scripts. Some of the groups started filming before they were properly prepared which meant they took much longer than planned, causing a bottleneck in access to scarce hardware...

I think all three projects show the importance of planning. The problems that arose did so fundamentally because I hadn't planned carefully enough, and because I often wasn't as familiar with the software as the students. I was learning as I went along which I found most unsettling -- and so did some of the kids.

(Is this the sort of thing you had in mind, John?)

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"We will be discussing the value-added aspect of ICT. What have you done (or seen done) with ICT that has improved the quality of teaching/learning, that would have been impossible/difficult to achieve without ICT?" (John Simkin)

I'll concentrate here on the indirect impact of ICT on teaching and learning. I work in modern foreign languages and special educational needs. Because of my website and my contributions to online forums I often receive "out of the blue" emails from parents and teachers all over the world asking for advice about MFL learners with SEN. I am able to respond because of the ease of electronic communications and also because I have found vast amounts of information about MFL and SEN while conducting online searches. I have posted what I discovered on my website at

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

for everybody's benefit. When I share my knowledge of MFL and SEN good practice, I do so in the hope that I am helping to improve the teaching and learning of MFL. The positive feedback I receive appears to confirm this belief. I couldn't have done this without the aid of modern electronic communications.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com

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I was producing a technical English course for LKAB (the company which mines iron ore in the far north of Sweden) in the Autumn Term of 1996. The company were taking face workers and giving them management training for the very first time. They'd always recruited managers from the south, and most them couldn't take life in the Arctic.

The use of IT was an important sub-factor in the whole training programme, and, as usual, the English course came first because the 'expert' courses couldn't handle the technology!

The course involved f2f meetings, a web site (using the Top Class platform), books, tapes and video conferences. I was participating in a discussion group at the time, and I asked participants if anyone wanted to be a 'fake' student, so they could give me informed feedback about how the course worked (nearly no-one was using the web for education at the time).

Bruce Harper, in Queensland, Australia, was one of the first people to respond, and we quickly realised that he would make an excellent on-line tutor, so we managed to get him on the payroll, and he's been tutoring Swedish students ever since.

What we all got out of this was access to expertise from an English-speaking country directly to the far north of Sweden. This was at the very dawn of the ICT age in Sweden, and I still remember the stir which went through the room when I told the people up in Kiruna that the only time Stockholm was involved in the course was for the few micro-seconds it took for signals to go through servers down there. What happened in the Arctic in the following years (post hoc, but not necessarily propter hoc) was that 'north-south' connections became infinitely less important than 'east-west' ones, leading to a situation where Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia have a very healthy Arctic Circle co-operation, which is heavily ICT-based, and almost always ignores (and is ignored by) the former elites in the far South.

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Here is my offering, though I'm a little uncomfortable about holding my own work up when its quality is a matter for other people to judge...

http://languagelegend.blogspot.com

I created this blog as an experiment to see what would happen. I teach A Level English Language (and Literature) in a sixth form college, and we are always trying to impress upon our students the value and importance of wider reading. I had long felt that although many of my students were perfectly keen, they didn't really know where to start with this kind of directive because their independent study skills are generally rather squashed by the GCSE experience. Also, Language is such a huge area that it can be rather difficult to know where to start. Also, English Language students often choose the course with a vague idea that they want to "do" English, but they don't want to read any books.

That's fine with me as I don't read enough books either, though the reasons for this are probably rather different! However, like my students, I do read a lot of material online, and my hunch was that if I gave them an online gateway they probably would read around the subject. I was also rather interested in the blogging phenomenon, as my experience of setting up a class website before had been very time-consuming. Blogging is much more rough and ready - look, here's something interesting - and so easy just about anyone can do it.

So, I set up the Language Legend, and directed my students to using it. Twice a week I write a post introducing hyperlinks to articles in the media on some aspect of English Language. These are generally linked to topics on the AQA B syllabus, because that's what I teach, but if there is something of a wider interest, I'm not averse to posting that too. There are links to useful websites, and a comments box to add a bit of interactivity.

I have once or twice set them homework to read something and post a comment, so that I could see they'd done it, but generally I just leave them to get on with it. In class I refer to articles that have featured on it, and usually about half of the class show recognition, and often want to engage in debate about the ideas raised. I am now working with them on their A2 investigation coursework, and it has had three key benefits.

(1) Overall, their ideas for coursework projects are far better than in any previous year simply because they have clearly read more. Though the spread of grades is likely to be similar, they have come up with much stronger starting points, and they have genuinely been able to identify real interests that have developed from their reading.

(2) I have an archive of articles from the media about language that they can draw on in developing their ideas.

(3) I would say that it has contributed to a high level of motivation in the class - partly because most of my students like doing things with ICT, and partly because it helps them see the connection between their academic study and the everyday world around them.

When it was clear from my class experiment that this was quite A Good Thing, I made the address available to users of an email discussion forum for UK English Language A Level teachers. It's now averaging 5-600 hits a month, so somebody must be finding it useful!

What I am interested to explore further is the whole business of interactivity. I have saved every comment posted in the comments box so far (I wipe it every now and then). It has surprised me how little the users engage in discussion. One of my vaguely realised goals was to encourage students not just to read but also to engage in this kind of discourse, and this has been much less successful. As soon as I get a little more time, I plan to explore this and try to make some adjustments to the format to encourage it. All suggestions gratefully received.

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Hello, everyone.

I'm sorry not to be able to attend your meeting in Toulouse!

There are serveral things in which ICT helped me in my teaching. For example;

- The drill and practice software: I tend to get very nasty with pupils who make always the same mistakes. Good software (not the ones with feedback-type: "wrong, try again" takes away my anger and helps pupils to overcome repetitive questions and difficulties;

- Presentation software and a beamer - It is hard to get it sometimes, but it 's worth being rude to your principal to get one: it is so nice to be able to use good presentation software in class: it helps to think over your didactics, to make smaller steps for children who have difficulties in my subject.

- Electronic learning environments, like blackboard and Viadesk - in my country. Ones you make pupils aware of the capabilities of such software in cooperative learning, it is amazing how well they use it in trasining their skills, in sharing knowledge with peers. I love it.

Dico Krommenhoek

French teacher and teacher trainer

Rotterdam

Netherlands

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The other experiment I'm conducting at the moment, in using ICT for teaching and learning, is in using the blog format (it's so easy to do!) as an online mechanism for supporting my A2 English Language students' individual coursework projects. It's too early to say how successful it will be, as we only started it two weeks ago, but early indications are that the students really enjoy using it, and it increases the quality of what I'm able to do.

Each student is required to produce a 2000-4000 word report on an investigation into a specific aspect of language. I have 21 students in the class and they are all doing individual projects, and all need individual advice and guidance. I only have 2 lessons a week, one of an hour and one of an hour and a half. That gives me the grand total of slightly less than 7.5 minutes a week with each student face to face - nowhere near enough!!

So, I've set up a team blog. Every student is a member of the team. We started off with each student posting his/her initial ideas. Then we used the comments function. Mostly this has been used for me to engage in dialogue with the student, but I'm hoping to encourage them to comment on each other's. This is something that would improve their learning, I'm sure, but they are a bit hesitant to do this at the moment.

Since then, I have posted a list of links to useful websites, and the task they need to do next. This will require them to post their finalised research question, and an outline of their proposed methodology. Again, I will comment and encourage mutual problem solving.

The great thing is that I can give students who engage as much individual feedback as they ask for. All of them are keen to engage at the moment, but I'm keeping a close eye on who is posting, to make sure no-one slips through the net. The other thing is that I don't waste time repeating task instructions to each person individually, or having to remember them if a student is absent - it's all there on the blog.

I can't let you see the site in action at the moment, because I told the students it was for their eyes only - with the proviso that I may invite one or two special "guest speakers" to post on it. This is to encourage them to "talk" freely, as I learned from the Langauge Legend that they are very shy if "strangers" are involved. However, it is my plan to seek their consent to use this material once the coursework project is completed. They are likely to give me that, but I don't want to change the nature of the interaction while we are doing it. If anybody's interested to see the outcome later, do let me know...

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It seems to me that a more fundamental question is "Is the cost/benefit of ICT sufficient to justify the amount of attention it receives?"

I've been using computers in my classes since 1986. The most useful thing for me, and the thing which I was not able to do until computers became more available, was for data analysis by my students. This simply can't be done by hand in a reasonable amount of time, but access to computers (and my college is very good at providing access) allows students to do analyses that could never hope to do otherwise. Which means I have to train them in how to use the computer for that purpose. Which means I have to know how myself.

Well, ok, I'm pretty geeky and I've spent a lot of time (and money) learning the ins and outs of Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Adobe GoLive, Photoshop, Quark Xpress, HTML.....yadda yadda. I can edit video, pictures, sound and incorporate them into my Powerpoints, I can construct a printed document that looks immaculate and includes color figures, graphs, etc. I can make web pages that incorporate many of these features as well: in fact, my wife and I got a grant to construct a web site on the natural history of a lake in our town (http://www.lakeeureka.eureka.lib.il.us/) and we've spent 4 years working on it.

And every minute I've spent doing all that is a minute I didn't spend learning more about the content of my field. I've had some of my better students tell me to turn the damn computer off and just use the board to discuss the issues at hand - and bring in my own experiences in the field.

When my wife was teaching art history, one of the IT people told her she could get a CD of all the slides she was using. So instead of having to use all those slides and a couple of slide projectors, she could use a computer, a data video projector, a number of CD's and project images of infinitely poorer quality than the slides she was using. Makes sense to me! Then she'd get to spend time learning Powerpoint instead of Medieval Art! Since I was one of the few faculty using computers in the late '80's on campus, I had students asking if they could come to my house and use my computer to write their papers. I once had a student spend 2 hours on MY computer trying to get an 8 item bibliography to print out. My wife got so sick of it, she grabbed his hand-written copy and typed the bibliography on our typewriter in 3 minutes.

We've got computers on the brain - and we need to think about the APPROPRIATE use of the damn things rather than use them simply because we can. And don't get me started on the mountains of chaff available on the internet which students discover during their "research" - from which MAYBE one kernel of wheat will fall. I once had a student writing a paper on scientific fraud turn in a paper contending that all cancer research was fraudulent. Her justification was that she'd found a web site that presented that point of view - and supported it by stating that - despite all the money we've put into cancer research - we still haven't found a cure! Science marches on!

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Mike's absolutely right, of course. In Europe we've got something called the ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence), which, in my opinion, is just an extended marketing campaign for Microsoft!

You get the crazy situation where unemployed lumberjacks have to go on courses to learn to make presentations in Powerpoint and construct databases from scratch in Access as a condition of continuing to receive unemployment benefit, whilst people who have real reasons for using computers avoid ECDL … on the grounds that it's a complete waste of time. There are plenty of places in Sweden where the only people to have the ECDL are the long-term unemployed, which makes it a bit of a black spot on your resume.

------

Here's another use of ICT in a way which I think is positive.

We've been using the Marratech desktop video conferencing programme for just over a year now. The fact that you don't need much in terms of equipment in order to be able to use it (and the programme's general user-friendliness) has had great effects for us. Last spring, for example, we were able to hook up a teacher from a university in Alabama to a video conference running at 15 sites all over the south of Sweden so that my students could interact with someone who really knew the American novel they were studying inside out. We paid him our going rate of 25 euros/hour too (I think it's important not to rely on unpaid enthusiasts!).

Last autumn I started a system whereby students studying from home or via study centres all over the south of Sweden (an area about the size of England) could link up to me in between studio video conferences to ask follow-up questions. For me it meant 30-45 minutes one evening at home every couple of weeks, but for them it meant that they felt they had access to their teacher and that they weren't entirely on their own. As you would expect, the fact that they *could* ask questions meant that they increasingly didn't need to, so my job became more and more concentrated on the areas where my skills and knowledge were really needed.

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Thank you who have so far added details of successful ICT activities. The contributions of Mike Tribe, Fidel Sciamanna and Mike Toliver don’t really belong is that thread as they deal more with the problems of using ICT in the classroom. Maybe it would be better if you re-posted these views in our ICT section:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showforum=191

Could I also ask for members to raise technical issues by starting a new thread. See for example my question for David.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=2915

In this way we can keep this thread for examples of current good practice.

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I believe that e-learning (and by this I mean web based learning) is going to have the greatest impact on post 16 education. In fact I believe that it will revolutionise 6 th form provision within this decade.

Aside from the obvious and now faintly cliched benefits of 'breaking down the reliance on teacher', 'anywhere anytime learning' benefits, e-learning also offers an opportunity to enliven the way post 16 material is taught and raise the expectations and experiences of the students.

For too long A level teaching has centred on what is not much more advanced than 'here are the notes go away and learn them'.

E Learning properly structured offers genuine independent progression through a series of differentiated learning objects. It also lends itself uniquely to the source method in history (my subject) - a method geared to the development of critical thinking in the students. Moreover the "Communication" in ICT lends itself beautifully to allowing students contact with teachers, witnesses, experts to develop their critical thought in richer than previously possibly contexts.

We tend to consume new technologies in the mode of the previous one. Many of the first web pages for learning were thus little more than digital textbooks offering a body of knowledge to the student to take away and learn. The best websites of the future will allow students to acquire content through enquiry of both intelligently structured material and through discursive interaction with peers and an exciting range of others.

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I've started a new topic on "problems with ICT" since John suggested it. [http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=2919] However, I would like to say that "best practices" and problems go hand in hand.

I agree that simulations can be an excellent use of ICT - I can make evolution happen in a few seconds on my computer and it would take a tad longer in the lab.

Again, data analysis is much speedier with CT, and I've been able to do labs in my science classes that I couldn't have done previously without this technology.

Students can open dialogues with people from around the world (since I've been on John's Spartacus website, I've received hundreds of inquiries about the Vietnam War). That, of course, has a downside as well - how do they know I even served in Vietnam?

I can use video to show natural phenomena to my students that would be very difficult or impossible to do otherwise.

Edited by Mike Toliver

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Well I am bound to mention alternative media outlets.

One of the clear images in Amy Goodman's book is of independent media journalists picking handfuls of rubber bullets off the ground while the American corporate media meekly repeated police assurances that no rubber bullets had been used in the battle of Seattle..

I use ICT lessons to introduce pupils to the websites of the BBC, ITN and Democracy Now! http://www.democracynow.org I have had no parental complaints because although Democracy Now! demonstrates that the corporate media lie to us, the lesson has balance as it shows the lies as well as the truth :hotorwot

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One way I've used ICT that had a direct impact on teaching and learning was a series of lessons on WW1. We started from the local war memorial - the names are familiar to local children and you immediately 'people' the war with real people. So far, so good, no need for ICT there. Except, by using the web I can immediately link the names to their graves via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, and make further use of the web to research these cemetaries or memorials. I can also discover where they lost their lives, and further research these events of the war via the web. All perfectly possible using text books, reference books; well perhaps possible, but certainly possible using the web.

I have used the power of the web to bring an immediacy to the research; to link the local with the war; and to open out to most campaigns of the war. All from a digital photograph. That, to me, gives an indication of the power of the web to encourage research skills, to investigate history, and to link the local to the national to the international. Not bad for a couple of lessons!

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