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Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy’

Research Summary 3: Teacher PD in ICT

April 5, 2010 1 comment

bash shell

That teacher quality is a major influence on student learning is generally accepted (ACER, 2005; ACT DET, 2009). Beyond pre-service training and previous education, continuing professional development (PD) is one of the major tools available to influence teacher quality. PD is a successful instrument to implement educational reform and importantly, improve student outcomes (CCA, 2008; QLD DET, 2010; Robinson, 2008). The rapid pace of change which typifies the ICT landscape, combined with the huge potential afforded by truly engaging with the technologies makes ICT-related PD a critically important element of curriculum reform.

The broad aim of this review is “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”(Becta, 2009. p.4). Of particular interest is the shift from away from PD for re-tooling towards a pedagogical focus, and challenges in implementing such change. Where appropriate, I have written with a focus on recent developments in Australia.

Is there a problem?

The issue of ICT teacher PD in Australia is very current due to new education reform policy relating to ICT, the so-called Digital Education Revolution (DER). The recent announcement of $40 million funding for a ‘Digital Strategy for Teachers and School Leaders’ is an indication that PD will be used as an instrument to effect change in teaching practices to support implementation of the DER policy (DEEWR, 2010; Gillard, 2010). The trends in teacher ICT use warrant this action, as according to 2008 survey results only 28% of Australian primary and secondary teachers are making effective use of ICT (Black, 2008; education.au, 2008a,b,c). This disappointing statistic is attributed to “a lack of investment in providing teachers with the techniques and strategies to use computers in their classrooms (Black, 2008)” and as such, Gillard’s announcement is, broadly speaking, an informed response to policy advice.

Challenges in ICT PD

There are numerous challenges in providing teachers with effective PD which are peculiar to ICT and it’s implementation in the classroom. Superficial issues such as lack of time and ease of access to technology are frequently cited, despite the emphasis on access to hardware that has been observed over the past decade (Becta, 2009; Strategic ICT Advisory Service [SICTAS], 2009). Further, due to the fast pace of change in ICT and students’ rapid adoption rates, there is a perception that teachers are being left behind (SICTAS, 2009).

The flurry of activity to address this perceived skills deficit has failed on a number of fronts. Firstly, the typical model for PD through infrequent, one-off courses, is inadequate for mastery of new skills (Becta, 2009; SICTAS, 2009). Secondly, and of fundamental concern, is that a re-tooling approach to ICT PD simply misses the point (Becta, 2009; Prestridge, 2010; SICTAS, 2009): “The separation of how to use the technology in education from why it should be used is a major issue” (SICTAS, 2009, p.21). In the rush to ensure teachers are keeping up with students, administrators have neglected pedagogical concerns despite the fact that is “very evident that a focus on skills is not sufficient to help teachers to develop their pedagogy” (Becta, 2009, p.6). These issues are compounded by negative teacher attitudes towards technology and change (Phelps & Graham, 2008; SICTAS, 2009).

Where do we go?

If our definition of effective use of ICT by teachers is that of transforming practice to engage students in new ways (education.au, 2008a), then surely our model for PD must reflect this. The features of successful or idealised models of ICT PD all centre around a “move from ‘re-tooling’ with infrequent curriculum integration to a model that will enable teachers to see the ‘transforming’ possibilities of ICT” (Prestridge, 2010, p.252), promoting a introspective profession focused on pedagogical concerns.

To achieve this, PD must be continuous, necessitating a rethink of our current short-course approach to PD provision (SICTAS, 2009). The claim 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” (Becta, 2009, p.6) forms a common theme (MacDonald, 2008; Prestridge, 2010; SICTAS,2009). MacDonald (2008) notes that 90% of teachers cite colleagues as their primary source of professional learning, in developing his argument for a collaborative, collegial approach to PD; another common theme (Becta, 2009; Prestridge 2010; SICTAS,2009). A range of models have been suggested, including; the Community of Practice (MacDonald, 2008); pre-service/in-service teacher mentoring dyads (Robertshaw, Leary, Walker, Bloxham, & Recker, 2009); students acting as teacher PD mentors (Ingham, 2008); and collaborative groups using ICT (Prestridge, 2010; Robinson, 2008).

I see great value in the Communities of Practice (CoP) model discussed by MacDonald (2008), arguing for the development of “persistent, sustained social network[s] of individuals who share and develop an overlapping knowledge base, set of beliefs, [and] values” (MacDonald, 2008, p.430). This model ticks all the boxes; it is by definition collaborative; focused on teacher needs; and ongoing.  CoP encourages teacher reflection, a vital component of engaging with pedagogical (not just skill-based) concerns. MacDonald also highlights the benefits of a synergistic relationship between education researchers and teachers working together in a CoP. This model promotes the idea that PD facilitators (or education researchers) form a vital part of a CoP, with heightened importance at the inception, asking probing questions to give direction, yet not taking ownership of learning. This model is that of a quality teacher in a constructivist classroom, broadly steering a course, yet allowing enquiry to be the engine of group learning. It is quite remarkable that education administrations which promote this model for learning in schools, are yet to embrace it for professional learning.

Prestridge’s (2010) contribution to the literature is also valuable, not only through an evaluation of using ICT to facilitate a CoP, but further, elucidating the dual role of discussion in this model. She attributes the development of a community to collegial discussion, a vital yet uncomfortable co-requisite to critical discussion, the element of a CoP which can effect change in teachers’ pedagogical beliefs. Prestridge acknowledges the natural tension between collegiality and critique in a CoP, but highlights the necessity for both in transforming attitudes to technology and pedagoigcal beliefs.

Further challenges.

In Australia, there is a move to impose national teacher ICT proficiency standards (DEEWR, 2010; DEST, 2002; SICTAS, 2009) as an instrument to effect policy change:

The slow progress in the uptake of ICT in education requires additional strategies and more accountability. National teacher standards are needed to match the new national curriculum and ensure that we achieve a critical mass in the incorporation of ICT in education. (SICTAS, 2009).

Such a top-down, accountability approach is at odds with a learner-centred, bottom-up approach to teacher PD. This conflict between the constructivist approach to curriculum and teacher PD (Prestridge & Watson, 2002) based on accountability to low-level competencies is absurd. Similarly, the simultaneous desire for small-scale, collaborative, Communities of Practice engaging in professional learning based on teacher needs; and a set of national proficiency standards, is untenable. Perhaps, the ability to measure teacher ICT skills is too tempting for administrators, yet the effect on encouraging meaningful, pedagogical professional development, is quite destructive.

Conclusions

That it is necessary to shift away from ICT-skills centred PD, towards reflective, pedagogically focused learning, is clear. Unless we, as teachers, can justify using ICT and make pedagogical changes to enhance student outcomes, then efforts to ‘teach’ ICT will be superficial. Embracing a Communities of Practice model for ICT PD incorporates the ubiquitous recommendations; that ICT PD should be collaborative; ongoing; focused on teacher needs;and facilitate critical discussion amongst colleagues. Further, it embraces a learner-centred, constructivist approach consistent with our best-practice models for schooling.  Yet, such bottom-up approaches are jeopardised by the desire of administrators to use standards-based accountability systems to ensure a consistent implementation of education policy. This desire to wield this stick is disappointing and surprising given that the carrot (increased student engagement and outcomes) is so juicy.


Is there a problem?

The issue of ICT teacher PD in Australia is very current due to new policy relating to ICT in education, such as the Digital Education Revolution (DER). The recent announcement of $40 million funding for a ‘Digital Strategy for Teachers and School Leaders’ is an indication that PD will be used as an instrument to effect change in teaching practices to support implementation of the DER policy (DEEWR, 2010; Gillard, 2010). The trends in teacher ICT use warrant this action, as according to 2008 survey results only 28% of Australian primary and secondary teachers are making effective use of ICT (Black, 2008; education.au, 2008a,b,c). This disappointing statistic is attributed to “a lack of investment in providing teachers with the techniques and strategies to use computers in their classrooms (Black, 2008)” and as such, Gillard’s announcement is an informed response to policy advice.

Challenges in ICT PD

There are numerous challenges in providing teachers with effective PD which are peculiar to ICT and it’s implementation in the classroom. Superficial issues such as lack of time and ease of access to technology are frequently cited, despite the emphasis on access to hardware that has been observed over the past decade (Becta, 2009; Strategic ICT Advisory Service [SICTAS], 2009). Further,due to the fast pace of change in ICT, and rapid adoption rate by students, there is a perception that teachers are being left behind (SICTAS, 2009).

The flurry of activity to address this perceived skills deficit has failed on a number of fronts. Firstly, the typical model for PD through infrequent, one-off courses has proven to be inadequate to master new skills (Becta, 2009; SICTAS, 2009). Secondly, and of greater concern, is that a re-tooling approach to ICT PD simply misses the point (Becta, 2009; Prestridge, 2010; SICTAS, 2009): “The separation of how to use the technology in education from why it should be used is a major issue”(SICTAS, 2009, p.21). In the rush to ensure teachers are keeping up with students, administrators have neglected pedagogical concerns despite the fact that is “very evident that a focus on skills is not sufficient to help teachers to develop their pedagogy” (Becta, 2009, p.6). These issues are compounded by negative attitudes towards technology and change (Phelps & Graham, 2008; SICTAS, 2009).

Where do we go?

If our definition of effective use of ICT by teachers is that of transforming practice to engage students in new ways (education.au, 2008a), then surely our model for PD must reflect this. The features of successful or idealised models of ICT PD all centre around a “move from ‘re-tooling’ with infrequent curriculum integration to a model that will enable teachers to see the ‘transforming’ possibilities of ICT” (Prestridge, 2010,p.252), promoting a introspective profession focused on peadgogical concerns.

To achieve this PD must be continuous, necessitating a rethink of our current short-course approach (SICTAS, 2009). The claim 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” (Becta, 2009, p.6) forms a common theme (Becta, 2009; MacDonald, 2008; Prestridge, 2010; SICTAS,2009). MacDonald (2008) notes that 90% of teachers cite colleagues as their primary source of professional learning in developing his argument for a collaborative, collegial approach to PD; another common theme (Becta, 2009; Prestridge 2010; Robertshaw et al. 2009; SICTAS,2009).

I see great value in the Communities of Practice model discussed by MacDonald (2008).

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Conflicting paradigms

April 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Paradigm shift
Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/askpang/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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 http://www98.griffith.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/10072/1452/1/19731.pdf

Acronym alert: CPD in ICT

April 3, 2010 Leave a comment

On screen keyboard - Apple IIc

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dansays/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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!


Tankette?

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

toy tanks
Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mayu/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Tankette: “a mini think tank”.(education.au, 2009) Thanks for your valuable contribution to our indreasingly jargonistic language.

This comes from a report from education.au titled “Teacher professional learning: Planning for change”.  The report forms the basis of a series of policy recommendations targeted at DEEWR policy advisors. The report calls for evidenced based policy to reform teacher PD such that they can play an effective role in the Digital Education Revolution (DER). Based on examination of PD, review of  factors influencing teachers capabilities to apply ICT, an analysis of barriers to implementation of ICT.

Background

Due to rapid changes in technologies and that teachers are already ‘behind’ in regards to ICT skills, inevitably, too much time is spent on skills at the cost of focusing on pedagogy. The authors claim that despite this skills focus,

educators do not need skills and knowledge of a wide range of technologies in order to effectively apply ICT to teaching and learning. (p.21)

The report gets to the crux of the issue, amazingly without the use of the word ‘pedagogy’… but it’s implied 🙂

The separation of how to use the technology in education from why it should be used is a major issue. (p.21)

What are the barriers to ICT PD?

  • fast pace of change in ICT
  • lack of time for PD
  • negative attitudes to technology and change (teachers need to be convinced of the benefits of ICT)

Challenging the structure and format of current PD programs is important, especially given the amount of financial and political investment. The widely used structure for PD featuring a calendar of one-off short courses are convenient to administer yet do not deliver results. The short duration and finite nature of this kind of PD experience limits learning over time and mastery of skills.Not only do they fail to provide effective change in terms of ICT skills, they are incapable of providing the depth of continued engagement required for pedagogical reform. This issue is compounded by the fact that many ICT PD courses are delivered by IT experts, with little insight into appropriate pedagogy.

Documenting the failures of the current system is an important step in designing a new structure for PD which can deliver on teachers’ needs. A learning communities based approach is suggested, resonating with the communities of practice model discussed in some of my other posts on this topic. Yet at the same time, the authors call for further collaboration at a national level, and the imposition of national teacher ICT proficiencies and an accompanying assessment and reporting process. In my mind, this top-down accountability approach is at odds with a learner-centered bottom-up approach to teacher PD. The benefits of the communities of practice model flow from the shared construction of direction and knowledge. It is hard to imagine how this will not be undermined, let alone be supported, by accountability measures imposed on a national scale.

The slow progress in the uptake of ICT in education requires additional strategies and more accountability. National teacher standards are needed to match the new national curriculum and ensure that we achieve a critical mass in the incorporation of ICT in education in order to develop students well prepared to participate fully in the modern world of work. (p.10)

The rest of the report continues in this vein. Calls to

individualise learning, engage in deeper learning and empower the learner to take responsibility for their learning. (p.23)

strike discordantly with the concept of competency’s based accountability. Further, as stated in the report, most ICT accounatbility frameworks focus on low-level competencies, competnecies which we have unanimously described as less importance than pedagogical concerns.

One of the tankette participants, Cecilie Murray, called for

teacher accountability through capability audits (p.65).

(though I must stress that this was from a transcript of the think-tank, and didn’t form the basis of the report’s reccomendations)

There is increasing interest in encouraging teacher professional development by rewarding superior performance. There is a complementary interest in specifying more clearly what constitutes good practice in teaching, and a growing rejection of the notion that teachers can base their teaching practices on personal preferences rather than evidence-based practice. (p.68)

Yes, I agree that evidence based pratice is laudable, for scientists, for teachers, and for policy design. Yet there is plenty of evidence suggesting that accountability measures linked to learning benchmarks are counter productive. Why then should we base policy frameworks on political imperatives rather than pedagogical imperatives. We know this isn’t agood way for our students to learn, why then should we expect improvements in teachers’ ICT proficiency under these measures?