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Marco Koene

ICT and education

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Anders asks: How can we bring about change? The NOF programme to which I referred in my previous posting was supposed to bring about change, but in spite of the large amount of money that was spent (230 million pounds of National Lottery money) it was not as effective as expected. To quote from the OFSTED report on NOF that I cited in my previous email:

"NOF training remains unsatisfactory in its overall effect. Training in around six out of every ten secondary schools and half the primaries has so far failed to tackle adequately those issues relating to the quality of ICT use in classrooms." (p. 3)

Many teachers who undertook NOF training were negative about unreliable online systems, lack of technical support and lack of online tutor support - it was found, for example, that a single tutor could not handle more than 30 trainees at one time. It was also found that face-to-face training was essential at some stage in a training course - preferably early on and at the end of a course. Providing everything online was unpopular among trainees. To quote again from the OFSTED report:

"The NOF training is most successful where senior managers in schools take an active interest in teachers’ progress, where there is effective peer support, and where groups of teachers meet for part of their training. Teachers left to their own devices to use distance-learning materials in their own time rarely make the same headway." (p. 3)

I think the most important lesson that was learned from the NOF experience is that generic ICT training does not work:

"Unfortunately, the training often lacks sufficient relevance to individual subjects […]. For many secondary school teachers, the training materials do not sufficiently engage them or make them want to explore the application of ICT to their subject." (OFSTED Report p. 4)

ICT training has to be subject-specific in order to be effective, and it has to include a substantial portion of time devoted to pedagogy and methodology - a point that I underline in my recent article:

Davies G. D. (2003) "Perspectives on online training initiatives". In Felix U. (ed.) Language learning online: towards best practice, Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.

One of the subject-specific training providers, the Centre for Information on Language Teaching (CILT), reported a far higher success rate than the average, with very positive feedback from trainees. Let's face it: Who do you ask for advice about ICT and graphic design? An ICT-literate graphic designer, of course. Who do you ask for advice about ICT and Modern Foreign Languages? An ICT-literate modern linguist, of course - which is my specialism. Ask me about sound recording and playback, speech synthesis, automatic speech recognition, etc, and I'll give you an informed opinion of their possibilities and constraints and their pedagogical value in MFL teaching and learning. Ask an ICT specialist the same questions, and you may well be overwhelmed with irrelevant technological advice.

Regarding training teachers in website design: I wrote a couple of introductory modules (for Language Teachers), which I used in workshops organised by the Association for Language Learning:

http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/webintro.htm

http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/webcreat.htm

See also Module 3.3 (Creating a WWW site) at the ICT4LT website: http://www.ict4lt.org - it contains general advice as well as subject-specific advice.

Furthermore, it has to be recognised that the Web is not the panacea. It has serious limitations, especially in my subject area. We still need a hybrid approach - and probably always will. Above all, don't forget that the "e" in "e-Learning" stands for "electronic" in its widest sense, not just in the sense of online learning.

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Good to see that this topic is something international! :blink:

I feel that the problems as described eg by Anders are international. For me it is also a reality. Nice hardware but not much people who can use it properly. I read a funny and relevant thing in the newspaper the other day; here in the Netherlands it is a 'hype' to buy home cinema sets. dvd player, big and state of the art tv etc. According to the article people buy them because they 'need' to have it but do not now how to use it. The possibillities were grossly underused and therefore it was in reality a complete waste of money. One of the salespersons interviewed compared it to buying a Mercedes and putting wooden wheels under it.

This to some extent is also true in education today, I fear.

Anders asked how do we bring about change? I do not have the answer but I noticed that 'traditional' teaching is not the answer. At the moment increasing skills of my colleagues is low priority for me, other things have to take priority first. But in between I help them on an individual basis. That is very time consuming but it really pays of. It has resulted in eg one colleague who did not know how to turn a computer on to become a regurlar user of email. I admit it is a small step but it is a start. I realise that by the time they know how to use the hardware etc is out-dated. Therefore I feel that ict in schools should not be state of the art, but fullly usable for the persons who have to work with it. Older software meets that criteria.

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The NOF programme to which I referred in my previous posting was supposed to bring about change, but in spite of the large amount of money that was spent (230 million pounds of National Lottery money) it was not as effective as expected.

It's interesting (but at the same time discouraging) to see that we (Sweden) are not the only country who spends millions (billions) on computer related projects that does not work. Between 1999-2002 the Swedish Government invested 1.7 billion SEK (US $150 million) on a National Action Programme for ICT in Schools, ITiS (the Action Programme covered the pre-school class, compulsory school, special school, sami school, upper secondary school, municipal adult education and, during 2002, folk highs schools).

This Action Program put a computer in the hands of each participating teacher (about 70 000 teachers were offered a computer - that they got to keep after the project was done) and the teachers were instructed to form groups where ICT related tasks were supposed to be done. I know that a few schools and districts learned and produced good material, but the vaste majority took the computer, went to the obligatoric meetings and produced a report - with no more obligation! This was an expensive and very discouraging experience. One of the weakest part of this experiment was the fact that many of the co-ordinators responsible did not have basic ICT skills!!! :blink:

Graham brings up part of the answer to my previous question - we need to relate it to our subject -

ICT training has to be subject-specific in order to be effective, and it has to include a substantial portion of time devoted to pedagogy and methodology

and the training of teachers has to be done by individuals that are professional in the subject and "ICT-literate" -

One of the subject-specific training providers, the Centre for Information on Language Teaching (CILT), reported a far higher success rate than the average, with very positive feedback from trainees. Let's face it: Who do you ask for advice about ICT and graphic design? An ICT-literate graphic designer, of course. Who do you ask for advice about ICT and Modern Foreign Languages? An ICT-literate modern linguist, of course - which is my specialism. Ask me about sound recording and playback, speech synthesis, automatic speech recognition, etc, and I'll give you an informed opinion of their possibilities and constraints and their pedagogical value in MFL teaching and learning. Ask an ICT specialist the same questions, and you may well be overwhelmed with irrelevant technological advice.

Another important factor that Graham points out is the individual technical (and subject) support -

"It was also found that face-to-face training was essential at some stage in a training course - preferably early on and at the end of a course. - - - The NOF training is most successful where senior managers in schools take an active interest in teachers’ progress, where there is effective peer support, and where groups of teachers meet for part of their training. Teachers left to their own devices to use distance-learning materials in their own time rarely make the same headway."

Marco also points out the importance of individual support but he writes about one big problem - Time!

At the moment increasing skills of my colleagues is low priority for me, other things have to take priority first. But in between I help them on an individual basis. That is very time consuming but it really pays of.

Graham writes that online support was not very popular -

Many teachers who undertook NOF training were negative about unreliable online systems, lack of technical support and lack of online tutor support - it was found, for example, that a single tutor could not handle more than 30 trainees at one time. It was also found that face-to-face training was essential at some stage in a training course - preferably early on and at the end of a course. Providing everything online was unpopular among trainees.

The conclusion for me is that ICT in school should be subject related. The training should be done by professionals within the subject who has the necessary ICT skills. To be able to make this work it has to be done on an individual basis...

Will this not take a lot of time? Can it be done in a different way?

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Anders asks: The conclusion for me is that ICT in school should be subject related. The training should be done by professionals within the subject who has the necessary ICT skills. To be able to make this work it has to be done on an individual basis...

Will this not take a lot of time? Can it be done in a different way?

It does take time, of course. But it is time that is worth investing. I found on my visits to schools that sitting with a small group of 5-6 teachers for 2-3 hours and guiding them step-by-step through basic ICT tasks I could achieve a great deal. I only used my online materials to reinforce what I had taught them, e.g. they could access the online materials as a reference source and email me with questions if necessary. Once they had acquired the basic skills, every trainee had to produce a lesson plan, showing how they intended to use ICT in the classroom. They were then encouraged to put their plan into action and report on its successes and failures.

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Yes, I agree that it is a very effective way of integrating ict skills. But there is of course also a financial side to all this. Schools get money to buy nice and shiny machines, but perhaps no money for teaching people how to use them!

How is this arranged in other countries?

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Yes, I agree that it is a very effective way of integrating ict skills. But there is of course also a financial side to all this. Schools get money to buy nice and shiny machines, but perhaps no money for teaching people how to use them!

Yes. Cross-curricular IT (or ICT) has failed because the resources to train and motivate teachers were never provided. The main resource is time and it is in very short supply.

Computers are great for motivating pupils but when pupils are arriving in Year 7 already saying "Oh no not another powerpoint presentation" this advantage is lost.

A good rule of thumb for education is that the only reason to teach something to somebody is that it is useful to them or it is interesting. "Some Mandarin told me to teach it" is nothing like a good enough reason!

IT is about motivating pupils. If they are keen to learn how to play a game they will spend all the time it takes to learn it. The same thing applies to any computer-based learning - if it is exciting they will make the effort ; if it is just a task then they will only see the difficulties.... The government is full of experts on shooting down imagination in mid-flight without prior warning.

We have to subvert (creatively adapt) the Mandarins' plan.

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Derek writes:

Computers are great for motivating pupils but when pupils are arriving in Year 7 already saying "Oh no not another powerpoint presentation" this advantage is lost.

Do a search with Google for the phrase "death by PowerPoint". I found 2420 occurrences! In my 25-year teaching career I have also had near-death experiences with overhead projector slides and film strips.

The main problem in the UK, as I see it, is that the government regards ICT as the panacea. They've wasted money on ICT. We have the National Grid for Learning, BECTA, the e-Learning Strategy Unit, Curriculum Online... ...and what have they achieved? There's nothing special about ICT. It is just as easy to bore the pants off someone with ICT-based materials as it is with chalk and talk. ICT in itself is not exciting - v. the spectacular crash of the UK E-University (UKEU) last month: it simply failed to recruit. ICT has a role to play, but ICT-based materials have to interest, stimulate and provoke in the same way as all other types of educational materials.

But ICT continues to encroach upon education, while we see schools cutting muscilessons, sports activities and offering modern foreign languages only up until age 14.

We've seen it all before, i.e. technology as the panacea. Oppenheimer sums it up:

In 1922 Thomas Edison predicted that 'the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and [...] in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.' Twenty-three years later, in 1945, William Levenson, the director of the Cleveland public schools' radio station, claimed that 'the time may come when a portable radio receiver will be as common in the classroom as is the blackboard.' Forty years after that the noted psychologist B.F. Skinner, referring to the first days of his 'teaching machines,' in the late 1950s and early 1960s, wrote, 'I was soon saying that, with the help of teaching machines and programmed instruction, students could learn twice as much in the same time and with the same effort as in a standard classroom.' (Oppenheimer 1997:45)

The cycle began with big promises backed by the technology developers' research. In the classroom, however, teachers never really embraced the new tools, and no significant academic improvement occurred. (Oppenheimer 1997:45)

Oppenheimer T. (1997) "The Computer Delusion", The Atlantic Monthly 280, 1 (July 1997): 45-62:

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97jul/computer.htm

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Graham says

It is just as easy to bore the pants off someone with ICT-based materials as it is with chalk and talk. ICT in itself is not exciting.

How true that is! Ever been to a conference where the speaker has an all singing, all dancing Powerpoint which they then proceed to read to you?:):zzz

It is equally the case when Derek says

Cross-curricular IT (or ICT) has failed because the resources to train and motivate teachers were never provided. The main resource is time and it is in very short supply.

Teachers have all been 'trained' in the use of ICT to some extent but in a majority of cases have failed to be inspired in what can be achieved by students and their teachers whilst using ICT. Most teachers have not been brought up in the 'digital age' and continue to find it a very alien and scary environment.

Perhaps those of us who do feel inspired are partly to blame in that we have not yet managed to share our feeling of inspiration, or the expertise that we have gained through our continuing interest, with fellow educationalists.

Time is certainly a key element - it takes time to achieve competence in using any (box of) tools which is, after all, what ICT is. Perhaps we are all so busy extending our own competence that we are not helping colleagues in acquiring a level of competence that they feel comfortable about showing off in a classroon situation!

Children, however, do not have the reluctance or fear that adults have when confronted with technology. They take it on board and are inspired to be creative in amazing ways. We need to help teachers to accept that they can actually learn from and with their students - I do this every time my classes work on computer based tasks!! It's a case of 'how did you do this - show me - show the class', or I may say 'this is another way of doing this - try it and see what you think'.

We (nerds?) all have a responsibilty to actively support colleagues and children in their use of ICT. It is easy to blame others for the 'death by powerpoint' syndrome but if we really feel that ICT has a significant part to play in education perhaps we need to get up and help a bit rather than simply criticising! <_<

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I feel that the negative reactions from many teachers towards ICT are mainly justified … simply because the official government advocates are simultaneously quite hostile to good teaching, because good teaching requires empowered, well-paid, fairly independent teachers.

Sometimes ICT fails because politicians try to solve budgetary problems with supposedly educational means. I read about the 'Arnold Schwarzenegger Math Program' in Newsweek many years ago (around 1982 … but I've lost the original reference). In the New York public school system it was very difficult to recruit maths teachers. I don't know exactly why, but I'd put my money on poverty, poor resources, inadequate back-up - in other words, all those issues which politicians would like to avoid. The 'solution' was to fund the writing of the 'world's best math course', written by outside academics, which would be made into a series of TV programmes, hosted by someone the kids of New York would see as a role model: Arnold Schwarzenegger. These programmes would then be broadcast to each classroom from the principal's office via the school's closed-circuit TV system, and, hey presto, there's the problem solved. Guess what, it didn't work!

The other problem I've come across is the desire to ignore the limitations of ICT in specific educational situations. "In Search of the Virtual Class" (Tiffin and Rajasingham, RKP) is an excellent book on ICT-based education. Here are two accounts from the book which highlight what I'd call the limitations of ICT:

In the 1970s, the Brazilian government shipped TVs out to the Amazonian jungle and started educational TV courses without qualified teachers (because there weren't any). Tiffin once witnessed a discussion about equilateral triangles in which the majority of the class won over a dissenter who maintained that the sides of such triangles had to be straight lines. No, said the majority, can't you see that they're curved (like the TV screen)?

In the 1980s there was a similar scheme in Mexico, where rural pupils, who didn't have access to proper schools, could follow the national curriculum via educational TV programmes. One year the pupils who performed best of *all* schools in Mexico (conventional and 'TV'-based alike) came from one of these groups, who lived in the shadow of a volcano. This meant that they could only receive sound on their TVs, no pictures. It seemed, in other words, that the rich visual medium of TV was actually inhibiting education, not promoting it.

Now I use ICT a lot on my courses - but I emphasise the 'C' (communication), rather than the 'I' (information). The question is: how do you encourage critical and open communication between people so that they learn things? It strikes me that this is essentially a pedagogical question, not a technological one. But in my experience you can only start to use ICT effectively when you start with this question.

Edited by David Richardson

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David’s latest contribution to this discussion reminds me of a personal experience. In 1982 I was invited by The British Council to give a paper at the first major South African conference on computers in education at the University of Stellenbosch. At the time I had developed a few programs for modern foreign languages on a Commodore Pet microcomputer, which I had been using with my students at a college in London.

When I arrived at the conference venue I immediately noticed that representatives of the Control Data company were there in force, promoting the mainframe-based PLATO computer assisted learning system. Academics from the USA associated with PLATO had the lion’s share of the keynote papers. I was one of the few presenters working with microcomputers. Control Data had pulled out all the stops. The conference was clearly a hard sell for PLATO. The reason behind this was that the then (pro-apartheid) South African government had perceived a mainframe-based learning system as a means of improving education and had installed PLATO on an experimental basis in a number of “black” and “coloured” universities. It was a way (they thought) of overcoming acute shortages of teachers, and they favoured mainframe systems because they offered more control over educational content. At that time British universities and schools were moving in the opposite direction, putting more effort into developing programs for microcomputers - a development that The British Council was helping to promote worldwide.

A couple of years later a teacher trainer from a black township in South Africa came to work with me at my college in London, having won a British Council scholarship. He had been using PLATO. He hated it. One student, he told me, came into his training college to work on PLATO, only to be told by the system, after working on it for about 20 minutes, that she was being logged out as she had not reached a satisfactory grade and needed to put in more work on the subject – and she had made a one-hour bus journey in order to get to the college!

I taught the teacher trainer all I knew about using microcomputers and one year later went to visit him in his college in South Africa. He had set up a microcomputer with a projector (in 1985!) and was using it for whole-class teaching. He showed me a couple of videos of himself working with students of English – great stuff, with the computer being used mainly as a stimulus for oral work. The PLATO system had been removed.

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There's another forum with quotes in it (thanks for the congrats, by the way, Graham), but Graham's post reminded me of one of the books I read when I was studying politics. The author started each chapter with a quote from Snorri Snurlasson's Saga. One of them fits ICT in education particularly well:

"It looks like snow, said the Lapps, who had skis to sell."

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