Coming soon: the new specialists
This academic year I achieved a long-standing personal ambition: to train teachers who specialise in information technology. The Teacher Training Agency had given the University of Huddersfield the go-ahead and last September we started a one-year PGCE course and a two-year BEd. The first cohort of PGCE students willqualify in July.
It has always puzzled me that we expect so much of IT teachers in schools, yet, except for ad hoc in-service sessions, have failed to train them. It is not unusual for teachers to take classes in subjects they were not trained in: teaching is a generic skill. I was trained in mathematics and drama, but I have never taught drama, though at times it has helped enliven my mathematics classes. However, I had worked as a computer programmer and had a great enthusiasm for IT, and, as a result, I quickly got involved in teaching the subject. Other colleagues have taken different routes, some via geography or biology. However, as IT has gained in stature, it is important that the training of IT teachers should become more systematic.
IT specialists are desperately needed in schools. There is an even greater need for IT specialists now that the Office for Standards in Education has recognised that the most effective curriculum model is a combination of the direct teaching of IT skills and their application in other areas of the curriculum. However, because schools have so many different ways of organising the IT curriculum, the students on our courses must be prepared to work with whatever arrangements they find.
With this in mind, our students have the opportunity to develop their IT skills on IBM compatible PCs, and Archimedes and Apple computers, as well as use a wide range of IT software. These IT resources are available in open access areas and in specialist subject resource centres for music, science, mathematics, business studies and design technology. Digital cameras, scanners, video digitisers, CD-Roms, and colour laser printing are also available. Technical staff maintain the hardware and software, and help students if they have problems using them. There is also a range of independent learning materials and a self-assessed skills profile to ensure that students acquire the range and depth of IT skills they will need in the classroom.
But having good IT skills alone is not enough. Students must be able both to teach IT and support the use of IT across the curriculum.
Consequently, students on placement in schools are encouraged to take responsibility for lessons where IT is used to support pupils' learning in another subject, such as English, art or business studies, in addition to teaching IT skills in specialist subject classes. This emphasis on working with other subject disciplines is also evident in the university course. IT students undertake modules in micro-electronics and control with design technology students, work with business studies students on a marketing simulation, and use midi-technology with our music students.
All the IT students have use of the Internet. We have our own Web site with information about the School of Education (http:www. hud.ac.uk) and students are working on projects that will enable them to set up Web pages for secondary schools. The students also have access to e-mail at the university and many have access from home. More often than not, I use e-mail to get in touch with them. As students may be in the university or in schools, and many schools are some considerable distance from the university, maintaining continuity of contact can be difficult. Using e-mail, students, teachers and university lecturers can keep in contact more easily.
All other PGCE and BEd students whose specialist subject is not IT take a basic course in IT. They are encouraged to acquire a working knowledge of basic IT tools and to put them to work in the classroom to improve teaching and learning. They assemble a portfolio demonstrating their IT skills, and are required to show that they have used IT to support teaching and learning when they are on teaching placement in schools.
Many of our students have IT skills that go well beyond our current expectations. Many have considerable commercial and industrial experience. Some have managed large information systems or project development teams. They are adept in using IT and do not regard it as an unfamiliar, "new" technology as they have matured with it. It is likely that these trained, specialist IT teachers will bring radically different perspectives to the organisation and use of IT in schools.
* Roger Crawford is a senior lecturer in education at the University of Huddersfield. He can be contacted at R.Crawford@pegasus.hud.ac.uk.University of Huddersfield, School of Education, Holly Bank Campus, Huddersfield HD3 3BP. Tel: 01484 478264