The role of critical discussion

April 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Error dialogue box
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Sarah Prestridge of Griffith University analyses the role of collegial discussion in ICT PD in her 2010 paper. Her state-of-play statement in the introduction is beautiful.

If we have any hope of enabling our teachers to use ICT in ways that will capture new learning styles and pathways for students living in a digital culture, ICT professional development intentions need to move from ‘re-tooling’ with infrequent curriculum integration to a model that will enable teachers to see the ‘transforming’ possibilities of ICT. (p.252)

Prestridge identifies three professional learning activities vital for meaningful ICT teacher PD; collegial dialogue;investigation; and reflection. She chooses to investigate the role of collegial dialogue in developing learning communities and enabling pedagogical change. This is intended to inform a model for ICT professional development, using online discussion forums to facilitate discussion.

The analysis of discussions found that dialogue could play two important roles with respect to teacher PD. Prestridge makes the disctinction between the different kinds of dialogue and outcomes. namely:

  • Collegial discussion → develops community
  • Critical discussion → transforms teachers’ pedagogical beliefs

Despite the complementary role of the collegial and critical discussion, they don’t exist without conflict.

Tension arises as collegiality is opposed to critique but without critique there is no need for collegiality. In other words, a learning community is built on camaraderie but without the opportunity for learning to occur through critique, there is no point in membership. (p.257)

This astute observation lead Prestridge to review her model for ICT PD, highlighting the relationship between critique and reflection, the latter being necesary for change.

Limitations of the online forum are also discussed.

The data reveal a number of practical aspects of online environments that inhibit critical discussion. These include the opportunities for teachers to ‘lurk’ or disengage at any given time and the ease with which misunderstandings or comments can silence participation.(p.257)

These limitations whilst significant are certainly not crippling. Further, ongoing experience in online environments will likely alleviate these issues.

  • Prestridge, S. (2010). ICT professional development for teachers in online forums:Analysing the role of discussion. Teaching and Teacher Education. 26. p. 252–258

Student Teacher?

April 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Little hand, big hand

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Students mentoring teachers

In her 2008 masters thesis, Sue Ingham investigates using students to mentor teachers in ICT PD. She cites Marc Prensky’s concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants in developing her rationale, hypothesising that;

there is the potential for students to become a key component for teachers to acquire new skills in the area of ICT. (p.30)

An interesting idea. Results? Ingham states;

There was an indication that teachers did move through to the next stage because of the professional development programme that was part of this research. (p.79)

Here, ‘stage’ refers to a model of ICT use, consisting of five stages. They are reproduced below from Ingham’s thesis, originally from (CEO Forum 1999), in Pratt et al., (2001. p.29)

Stage 1: Entry – students learning to use technology
Stage 2: Adoption – teachers use technology to support traditional instruction
Stage 3: Adaptation – technology used to enrich curriculum
Stage 4: Appropriation – technology is integrated, used for its unique capabilities
Stage 5: Invention – discover new used for technology

The intervention was most effective where teacher motivation was high,  an unsurprising result.  Strengths included the highly individualised structure, with the most successful partnership being those where the teacher had definite purpose or ‘authentic needs’. Not ground-breaking, but an interesting idea worth exploring.

Partnering pre-service and in-service teachers

Similar themes are found in a 2009 paper from Robertshaw et al., Utah State University researchers. In their paper the authors examine a model where pre-service and in-service teachers form reciprocal mentoring relationships for ICT PD. They examine these relationships with respect to the TPCK model. Partnering pre-service teachers with high technological knowledge and low pedagogical knowledge with in-service teachers with the converse skill set lead to succesful partnerships. In instances where this complimenting expertise did not exist, reciprocal mentoring was not successful. These findings are similar to those of Ingham (2008), that meeting individual needs is vital for mentoring relationships to be of value.

Conflicting paradigms

April 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Paradigm shift
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This is the paper I’ve been waiting for! through my reading on teacher PD in ICT, I’ve been constantly amazed at the difference between theories of constructivist learning and the reality of teacher PD. The abstract of this paper from Sarah Prestridge and Glenice Watson articulated this point wonderfully, and gave me that “That’s exactly what I think” feeling. From their abstract;

The paper explores the alignment between the teachers’ understandings of their need for ICT professional development and the demands presented within the reform itself. Initial findings suggest that a conflicting paradigm exist in that the teacher’s demand for skill based ICT professional development does not equate with the constructivist ideology present within the school reform. This has consequently lead to two key prepositions. Firstly that skill based training in ICT may not enable the transition to a more constructivist approach to the use of ICT within the classroom. Secondly that the school based reform itself has created an antithetical position that is limiting to the potential educational use of ICT and can be seen as driving the form and function of professional development.

Amen. The paper is a little dated now, especially as it is based on teacher interviews and their PD experiences, but has the PD landscape changed that dramatically in the last decade? Sadly, I think not, perhaps making the messages of this paper even more relevant today.

  • Prestridge, S.J. and Watson.G. (2002). To skill or to construct? Effective Information and Communication Technology professional development within the context of current school reform. Proceedings of the International Education Research Conference. Brisbane, Australia: Australian Association for Research in Education. Retrieved from

Communities of practice: A model for ICT PD

April 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Little people
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From the articles I’ve been reading on teacher PD for ICT, there appears to be a clear message.

  • To achieve positive learning outcomes, PD is crucial.
  • PD must be continuous and address particular needs of individual teachers.
  • The traditional model for PD (one-off, one day courses) is bunk as it doesn’t provide on-going support.
  • The focus on skills is a distraction from the main-game, pedagogy.

It is with this understanding that I sought out Ronald MacDonald’s 2008 paper on ICT PD (full reference below).

MacDonald cites evidence that the vast majority of teachers (90%) report that their primary source of PD is their colleagues. This may not sound surprising, but stop to consider all the time and effort poured into formal PD and it starts to sound less like a truism and more like an important avenue for investigation. Given this trend, and my understanding of the current ICT PD landscape, I was compelled to read on.

MacDonald argues that the strength of collegiate interaction and shared knowledge should be exploited formally, using a Communities of Practice model. A Community of Practice (CoP) is described as a ;

“persistent, sustained social network of individuals who share and develop an overlapping knowledge base, set of beliefs, values, history and experiences focused on a common practice and/or mutual experience” (Barab, MaKinster, & Scheckler, 2003, p. 238) in Macdonald, 2008 p.430

CoP encourages teacher self reflection, a vital component of enaging with pedagogical (not just skill-based) concern. MacDonald also highlights the benefits of a synergistsic relationship between education researchers and teachers working together in a CoP. After reading MacDonald’s lengthy discussion, I was left with the sense that researchers whould be part of the CoP, with heightened importance at the inception, asking probing questions and steering direction, yet not taking ownership of the research and learning. To me, this sounds like the role of a good teacher in a constructivist classroom, broadly steering a course, yet allowing enquiry to be the engine of group learning. As such, PD providers should become facilitators and support teachers generating new knowledege.

Funny, the more I read about PD, the more I’m surprised by structures which ignore current best-practice in teaching school students. We are all students, and classroom or staffroom, it’s all education

  • MacDonald, R.J. (2008).Professional Development for Information Communication Technology Integration: Identifying and Supporting a Community of Practice through Design-Based Research. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 40(4). p. 429-445. Retrieved from: for ICT.pdf

The tyranny of distance: Teacher PD in rural areas

April 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Great wall of China

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An interesting article authored by Bernadette Robinson, “Using distance education and ICT to improve access, equity and the quality in rural teachers’ professional development in western China“. Despite the focus on rural China, the issues Robinson raises are applicable elsewhere.

The abstract sums it up nicely (as you might expect :p)

The goal of ‘teacher quality for all’ is proving difficult to achieve in many countries, especially in rural areas, yet teacher quality is a key determinant of students’ participation rates and achievement levels. It also affects the attainment of social justice in terms of equity in educational quality for students. One contributor to teacher quality is professional development though limits on its availability and quality create inequity for many teachers.

Robinson’s approach surprised me, focusing on education’s status as a universal human right. This quickly gets quite murky as the students’ right to learning in convolved with teacher learning.

A case can be made for teachers’ rights to continuing professional education on two grounds: as an essential requirement for ensuring teacher quality for all (as part of children’s rights to basic education) and as a teacher’s own right to education.

As such, one could argue that limiting teacher access to PD has a flow-on effect, restricting students’ learning and in doing so, violating their right to education (or at least, causing inequity in the provision of education). Robinson however, focuses on the teacher’s right to access PD and continue their learning. I think this is a much weaker argument (this is evidenced, to Robinson’s lament, by the absence of teacher ritghts in international declarations of rights) yet the exploration of the idea is worthwhile,  if only to provide a cross-section of this issue.

I think it is more a question of student rights, with responsibility falling to governments and education administrations to ensure teachers can deliver. PD is surely of vital importance in achieving this.

Of course, ICT to the rescue! Distance education through ICT is proposed as a solution.

The use of distance education and ICT has the potential to distribute opportunities for learning more widely and equitably across the teaching force. It can also improve the quality and variety of the resources and support available to teachers, opening up new avenues to professional development. If social justice is to be achieved however, in terms of equity of educational opportunity and services, the provision needs to be planned in ways that make it available, accessible, acceptable, and adaptable to all teachers and head-teachers, empowering them to make choices in what and how they learn.

Despite the possible barriers to this working, I think that the use of ICT to deliver PD is well suited to the Community of Pratice model. What better than Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate collaborative communities constructing and sharing knowledge?

  • Robinson, B. (2008). Using distance education and ICT to improve access, equity and the quality in rural teachers’ professional development in western China. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(1). Retrieved from the IRRODL website:

Acronym alert: CPD in ICT

April 3, 2010 Leave a comment

On screen keyboard - Apple IIc

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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!

Qauntitative data!

April 3, 2010 Leave a comment


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Back in October, 2008, published some market research data on educators’ use of ICT. The executive summary provides a concise overview (as it should) however, the stats reported are combined from all four sectors studied (primary, secondary, vocational and higher education). I am more interested in ICT use in primary and secondary schools and and such, sifted through the data in the relevant sections of the extended report. References provided at the bottom of this post.

Sure, the data’s is getting a little old, but is still of interest as it is (a) Australian; (b) reports on primary & secondary teachers; and (c) is based on teacher self-assesment rather than an external skills measure. The combination of these factors make it noteworthy …. and as such, I will make some notes :p

I have collated data for primary and secondary teachers only. As such the figures I present here will differ from those found in the executive report or used in other literature . The data is based on surveys of ~280 primary and secondary teachers (216 primary, 67 secondary) from Australia.

The Good News

Percentage of teachers using internet every day: 87%

…and the Bad News

Results of ICT capability self rating

  • Not applicable for my role
    • 3%
  • Foundation – developing my ICT skills
    • 5%
  • Emergent – using ICT to support teaching and learning
    • 25%
  • Proficient – confident in use of ICT to support learning outcome
    • 39%
  • Transforming practice – new ways of engaging students
    • 28% CEO, Greg Black describes only those teachers who are transforming practice, as being effective users of ICT. This is a fair assessment. If pedagogy is not changing in response to technology, either (a) the use of technology is ‘cosmetic’ and doesn’t address the different approaches to learning afforded or demanded by the technology; or (b) our existing pedagogical approach was so perfect that no change in response to technology is required. bah!

In a vodcast on, Greg Black attributes the lack of effective ICT use by educators to

a lack of investment in providing teachers with the techniques and strategies to use computers in their classrooms. (Black, 2008)

The way I read it, this statement calls not only for an investment in teacher professional development, but further, PD which addresses pedagogical skills, not merely technological skills.