In our study, Teachers as Innovators, we have tried to identify the special ingredients that create commitment and enthusiasm for new ways of teaching and learning. We found that the Internet may be the application that fires teachers' imagination.
The 90 teachers that we questioned already used information and communicatons technology in teaching a range of subjects. The majority had their own on-line computer and email address. But very few had attended on-line courses and half did not feel well informed about the National Grid for Learning.
They agreed on the value of sites that provide the type of up-to-date information supplied by the Virtual Teachers' Centre and government agencies.
About a third belonged to the National Association of Co-ordinators and ICT teachers or MirandaNet, the ICT professional development fellowship that was set up five years ago. The MirandaNet respondents appreciated the opportunity to communicate with like-minded individuals and keep up with technological advances.
Some elements of the MirandaNet model - such as long-term mentoring, publishing case studies for peers, industry partnership and contact with teachers outside the UK - may be helpful to other professional groups wishing to set up on-line communities.
The teachers in our study, which was funded by the Teacher Training Agency, Oracle and Compaq, said that using ICT had improved their presentation skills and extended their range of teaching strategies. More resources had become accessible and many administrative tasks were now easier. Most importantly, some felt that using ICT had helped them to focus on the processes of learning.
Despite their competence and confidence, only one teacher had been trained to teach IT initially. Although three-quarters taught ICT to other teachers, approximately 13 per cent had not attended any ICT in-service training either. Most of the others had attended between three and six courses but less than half thought that these courses addressed the central issue of teaching style.
This serves as a reminder that even if all teachers are ICT competent by 2002 this will not guarantee that more independent, relevant and flexible learning models are developed. Teachers also need really good mentoring and advice.
However, there are grounds for optimism. The average age of the enthusiasts we surveyed was about 45 and the majority were senior managers. This challenges the view that only the younger members of the profession can provide a lead.
Christina Preston is a senior research associate of the Institute of Education, University of London. This article is based on new findings from Teachers as Innovators: What motivates teachers to use ICT: A study of expert teachers by C Preston, M Cox and K Cox,see www.mirandanet.ac.uk. The MirandaNet Fellows will be available to advise colleagues at BETT2000 at Olympia between January 12 and 15. Full programme and booking form now on the web at http:fcis1.wie.warwick.ac.ukitte_bett