Breaking the mould
Education and information technology have gone through several phases.
Between 1985 and 1995, information technology was largely skills based and bolted on with funding from the Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative (TVEI). Between 1995 and 2003, we had the period of information and communications technology (ICT), bolting on more technology. Soon, we'll be entering the era of e-learning, and the Government setting a number of e-learning targets to be achieved by 2006.
The danger is that when it comes to ICT in education, we continue to use the 20th century mould that came through TVEI, when we really need a fresh approach. For a start, we need to see ICT as something that is embedded in our teaching and learning and not simply a bolt-on. Next, we need a bold and imaginative programme that is based around innovative teaching, and we need a radical re-think of teacher training, because a thriving e-learning environment needs e-confident teachers.
A huge amount of money (and time) has been invested in ICT in schools, and some people are asking just what has been achieved? If we are honest, the impact of ICT in the classroom is still minimal. One way to encourage ICT in education is to put tools into the hands of innovative teachers and let them use them in the classroom. But if you are going to equip teachers with creative learning technologies, like a laptop computer, data projector and a digital camera, they need to be able to grow and develop with them. Then we should also encourage innovative teachers to demonstrate their skills by giving them the opportunity to be observed in the classroom at a time of their choosing. They should be able to say: "This is what I'm doing with a range of learning technologies and online resources, come and have a look."
At Sawtry, we are putting this philosophy into practice. If you look at our website (www.sawtrycc.com) you'll find that we have redesigned our homepage to focus on Sawtry life. We want people to see our website as a place where you can get the latest news and see what is being created by teachers and students. There is a lot of time and effort being put into these resources, but the difference is that this is not an extra; it is how we work. If you are going to become an e-school you should be using things like e-registration systems and e-mark books, and asking how can we share information and communicate better through the use of ICT?
And e-learning must not be an extra; it should be at the core of how a school operates. In many schools, teachers have their own laptops and there is fast internet connection, but what are they being used for? If someone has spent time preparing online resources but can't get their group into the computer suite because it is over-booked, they will become frustrated.
We need to provide proper access to ICT if teaching and learning are to benefit from it and flourish. Furthermore, we need to monitor ICT usage in our schools and ask questions such as: who is taking responsibility for developing online materials? Many students now have access to the internet outside school, and if we don't get our e-learning strategy right, learners may bypass what is happening in the classroom.
It is also important that there is a comprehensive training programme in place that doesn't just offer teachers one hour of training on a Wednesday after school, but an online approach which is just-in-time, so they can use what they have learnt in their teaching. We have to create a world where staff are developing skills and online resources that are going to be used with their students. We now have many well-equipped schools when it comes to ICT and there is enough evidence to show that, with proper training, there are real benefits to be gained from the use of ICT in education, whether it is in learning gains, reducing work load or greater efficiency with the use of online assessments. Research by Lancaster University under the supervision of Don Passey has shown how ICT can motivate students (www.dfes.gov.ukresearchdata uploadfilesrr523new.pdf). All the evidence is there.
To sum up, we need to break the mould in terms of how we view ICT in education and how we implement it. The focus should be on the innovative teacher and in getting away from ICT as being something that is an add-on to teaching rather than a core part of education. We have to change our way of thinking about ICT and break through the barrier that prevents schools from reaping the potential benefits of ICT in both teaching and learning.
Alan Stevens is associate principal at Sawtry community college in Cambridgeshire. He was talking to George Cole