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Acronym alert: CPD in ICT

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This post will review the ‘Continuing Professional Development in ICT for Teachers: A literature review’ a report published in 2009 by Becta.

First things first, who/what is Becta? Answer:”Becta is the [UK] government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning.”  from the Becta website.

Now I’ve got that sorted, what was the aim of the report? (Note: unless specified, all direct quotes are from Becta, 2009)

to find out why it is that, despite considerable resources being dedicated to developing the use of ICT in schools in recent years, there is a lack of impact on teachers’ everyday practice. (p.4)

The report provides a critical overview of literature relating to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in ICT, a feild desvcribed by the authors as fast moving yet under-researched. Their literature review attempts to provide a synthesis of results and identify issues in ICT PD, namely;

  • an over emphasis on skills (to address a perceived skills deficit) rather than pedagogy
  • failure to create a ‘vision’ for ICT focusing on pedagogy and teacher development
  • political tension interrupting the development of coherent technological pedagogies

Of these identified issues, I am interested in the first as it appears to be a fundamental misconception of the purpose of PD.

Skills training – “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” (Lewis Carroll)

The report is unequivocal on the issue of skills training, calling for a shift of focus to pedagogy.

Although skill’s training is clearly vital to being able to integrate technology into teachers’ practice, it is very evident that a focus on skills is not sufficient to help teachers to develop their pedagogy. (p.6)

This focus on skills is not only detracting attention from where it should be, pedagogy, but further can lead to a misleading picture of teachers’ use of ICT. If administrators are focused on technological skills, provide PD courses to address a skills deficit, and subsequently observe an increase in the level of these skills in teachers, the conclusion may well be drawn that progress has been made. Yet what use is progress towards a misguided aim.

There has been a great deal of ICT PD over the past decade yet, it hasn’t lead to the changes which administrators anticipated. The Becta report again attributes this to a lack of pedagogical considerations in PD, and a blinkered focus on skills.

The core issue to emerge from the review is that teachers need to be at the centre of their own learning if they are to change their deep-seated beliefs and habits regarding the use of technology. Otherwise, surface-level adoption occurs, by which teachers just have time to learn how to use a technology without deep consideration of how it might be used to address context-specific learning needs of students. Rather than deepening and consolidating understanding of how to use the technology for enhancing learning, teachers frequently find they have to move on to learn how to use another technology or address another priority. (p.6)

The report cites other barriers to effective PD. Many schools and teachers feel overwhelmed by the number of different policy initiatives they must satistfy and adopt. This issue is particularly the case in the ICT realm due to rapid shifts in technology and societal responses to it. As such, the misleading nature of focusing on skills based PD is exacerbated;

It is possible for observers to assume that teachers are sufficiently trained because they are ‘using’ a technology in a visible way, but this is no indication that genuine change has happened in the quality of the learning. (p.6)

Further, a lack of access (or ease thereof) to suitable technology is still cited by teachers as a major barrier to PD, motivation and implementation of ICT in classrooms.

An Alternative Approach – “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here? That depends a good deal on where you want to get to said the cat. (Lewis Carroll)”

Given the criticism of the ICT skills based PD which typifies the approach of the past, what constructive suggestions does the Becta report make for the future?

The incorporation of group work, collaborative problem-solving, independent thinking, articulation of thought and creative presentation of ideas are examples of the ways in which teachers’ CPD might focus on pedagogy, with a view to how technologies can support these processes. (p.6)

These ideas relate not only to how teachers should be teaching ICT in classrooms, but also, how PD should be designed. It seems like a bit of a no-brainer yet in even today, administrators are calling for student-led, constructivist pedagogies whilst putting teachers through instructor-led PD.

In a similar vein, the report calls for the prioritisation of teachers’ individual needs, including home-life technology use and demands of specific subjects, or roles. The collaborative Communities of Practice model is advocated as a way of addressing these individual needs whilst nurturing a reflective, enquiring and self sustaining school ethos.

Resistance – “Better late than never, or Better never than late?” (Lewis Carroll)

Nurturing reflective communities of practice, which collaboratively construct their learning related to ICT skills and pedagogy ….sounds great! Yet strong resistance exists;

embracing technologies means developing a student-led pedagogy, focusing on group work, based on a belief that students should actively construct their own learning. Where teachers have relied upon teacher-centred approaches in their practice, they are being asked to make a fundamental shift in ideas about how students learn. This is a major challenge and involves significant change, as opposed to using technologies to continue to underpin a teacher-centred approach. (p.44)

The report cites a call (from Holmes et al. 2007 in Becta, 2009) for a ‘hearts and minds’ approach to PD. Yet the resistance to change of teachers’ beliefs and pedagogical approach is well documented. The silver bullet? Most of the research cited in the report related to pre-service teacher training, so we might be in for a wait.

Given the average age of the teachers (NSW Audit Office, 2008), at least the wait might not be too long!

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