Are the colleges turning students on to technology?

18th October 1996 at 01:00
It helps if you begin your career switched on to computers. Gerald Haigh talks to new teachers and their supervisors about preparing for the classroom in the multimedia age.

Whatever the reasons and wherever lies the fault - if any - nobody can afford to be complacent about the way student teachers are prepared in the area of information technology. A student who reads the pamphlet from the National Council for Educational Technology, Training Tomorrow's Teachers in Information Technology, is likely to be astonished at the gap between what it says and the reality of college and teaching practice life.

for example, the pamphlet lists "Seven elements of IT capability for students". One of these says that the competent student teacher has "the ability to use IT to support everyday classroom or fieldwork activities at an appropriate national curriculum level. This will involve planning learning activities in which IT is an integral and contributory element and awareness of the range of appropriate, available IT applications". How many student teachers measure up to that?

The troubles are multiple. Teacher training courses are overcrowded; students come with widely differing experiences; institutions cannot often afford the luxury of choosing partner or practice schools according to the quality of their IT curriculums; school computer systems vary so much that no college or university can easily cover them all; not all tutors are themselves easy with IT. All of these well-documented difficulties - and a hint at some of the solutions - show up in these brief accounts from students, teachers and tutors.

How do the institutions cope? Janet Brown's experience with the OU shows what can be done if you simply give each student a multi-media computer. Just being able to assume that they all have the same equipment is obviously an enormous advantage - it makes it possible to give out skeleton reports and documents on disc or to make extensive use of electronic communication (particularly important for distance learning, but valuable for students in any institution). Below, an OU tutor looks at this from his own point of view, and a tutor at a conventional university describes how she is at least making dents in the problems.

Jo Baker

A PGCE student at Lincoln's Bishop Grosseteste College, just started as a class teacher in a junior school.

The PGCE year is so short. the approach at Grosseteste in all subjects beyond the core is, 'We'll give you the skeleton and you fill in what you need. ' This is particularly important with IT, where people go in at so many different levels. So although there was just basic preparation for school, there was really excellent extra support when you asked for it - any amount of one-to-one help. The computers were there for us, too - I lived in a hall with 40 students and there were five machines always available, including over the weekend. Still, when I was interviewed for this job I was asked what I felt least confident with, and I said IT and drama.

Gary Melling

A secondary PE teacher, after completing a PGCE at the College of Ripon and York St John.

I feel very under-equipped in the area of IT really. There are so many other things to cover in the one-year course. Perhaps some people might think that IT is not important in PE, but you do need it for producing team lists and worksheets and so on. And, in GCSE PE, it really becomes essential. I can do basic word-processing - I produced my essays at college - but I'm not familiar with things like graphics. So if I wanted to produce a worksheet on football, with a picture of a footballer for example, I couldn't do that at the moment. My head of department is up to speed, and I'm sure that once we are into the term she will fill me in on it, but at the moment I haven't used any computers at school at all.

Janet Brown

(Not her real name). Student on the PGCE course with the OU.

When I started I was something of a technophobe, because my computer experience dated from an earlier time when you had to enter codes just to move around the screen. I hadn't touched a mouse, for example.

OU PGCE Students, though, are loaned an Apple Mac. I found it so easy to use. It's given me real confidence. I can produce professional looking reports, and even if a school has a different system I'd be able to try things out. I haven't actually used a computer in the classroom, but I've observed my mentor and I know I'll be confident when the time comes.

Does a graphics calculator count as IT? I've done a lot of work with those in the classroom and the children are fascinated by what's possible. I do like using First Class (the OU's computer video conferencing system). It's really good that I can keep in touch with my tutor and with my mentor at the partner school.

Amanda Davenport

Just completed a four-year BEd degree at Nene College, Northampton, and has started as a class teacher in a junior school.

We had sessions on IT once a week for the first term - but that's four years ago, and you need to come back to it more often to reinforce it. I use a computer at home, and to be honest, if I didn't I wouldn't have a clue. I certainly don't know how to use the variety of equipment that you find in schools. On my second-year teaching practice I kept asking if I could use the computer but I never had the opportunity. I'm OK once the program is up and running, but I'm short on the basics - loading, setting things up.

Wally Rutter

Teacher who looks after teaching partnership students andnewly qualified colleagues at Matthew Moss School in Rochdale, where all staff are expected to be computer literate.

Most faculties have thoroughly embraced it and use it as tool for admin and also for course work and worksheets. This year we have nine newly-qualified teachers, from a wide range of backgrounds.

Often there is a mismatch of assumptions between what they have have done and where it fits into what we do. Occasionally, for example, someone will claim to be computer literate - which means all things to all people - and they then find that our equipment here is far superior to what they have been working with either at university or at home.

However, they do have so many things to do when they arrive that we tend to leave IT to them and their faculty to tackle. When people see worksheets with word processing and graphics, for example, they become very anxious to do that.

They all say that once you are using IT regularly it becomes easy. The trouble for a new teacher is finding that time in the working day or even in the evening.

Chantal Callaud

Just started as a secondaryschool modern languagesspecialist, following a PGCEcourse at ManchesterUniversity.

We really didn't do much about information technology on our course - just a two-hour introduction to word processing at the beginning. Then, during teaching practice in a sixth form in Manchester, I found that the head of modern languages was very keen on using IT.

Because I had IT skills of my own - from before I did my degree - I was able to write tasks for the students. One of my tutors from the university saw this and was very impressed, but really it wasn't all that difficult.

The trouble is that the post-graduate course for PE students has to cover so many things. But it's a pity that we couldn't have done more - there really are some fantastic programs for modern languages, especially in teaching grammar.

Ryland Lee

A tutor on the Open University's PGCE course.

One of the things about our course is that each student is given the loan of a computer - a multimedia Apple Mac with fax modem. At the end of the course this is given to the student's partner school. We all agree that teachers are only likely to be confident and comfortable with IT if they have access to it on a day-to-day basis. Initially some students are a bit apprehensive of the computer but the thing is they have to use it - they have to word process their assignments and produce word-processed materials for the classroom.

Because each student has the same equipment we are able to produce framework documents on disc for them to fill in. We also have our video-conferencing and e-mail systems.

The only time the IT doesn't work well is when someone's living circumstances are such that they can't leave the equipment set up all the time. It can be difficult for them then.The other problem is that many students are really reluctant to let the machine go when the time comes to hand it over to the school. Many have in fact bought the machine from the school - which may be on a differentsystem and therefore not be keen to take on an Apple Mac.

Tina Jarvis

In charge of the primary PGCE course at Leicester University.

There are two issues - one is students' personal competence; the other is their competence in the classroom. We have two big computer suites; we show students how to use the Internet.

One problem is the vast number of machines and the variety of software they will meet in schools. What we've done is work with local authority advisers trying to match what's going on in schools in five areas - word processing, database, graphics, control and CD-Rom.

We can't guarantee to match every machine and piece of software, but we can usually show something similar.

We're also offering a day's course for teacher mentors - it's expensive for us because we pay for supply cover, but we do believe we have to target mentors and students with the same thing. This year we're trying to put student's IT tasks on the internet so that other students can look for examples there.

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