Does e-learning hold the key to delivering multilevel skills in the classroom? Helen Yewlett (left) gives the teacher's perspective
"Come and see, come and see now," said the systems manager. There was a room full of absolutely quiet kids working at the computers on a Friday afternoon. It was surreal. They all had headphones on and they were all oblivious to us watching them.
We had sent away for ECDL software. ECDL is the European Computer Driving Licence and this software allowed each pupil to work through a module and gain an accreditation. We were thrilled. We had the technology, and we were delivering it.
Like most schools, there simply isn't enough time given to teaching all the pupils ICT skills and we soon realised there would not be enough time for the pupils to achieve the entire ECDL, but nevertheless we thought we had solved a lot of problems.
Handling software well is a skill, and skills take time to acquire. True, we can teach the entire class some skills, holding the faster pupils back until the less able have also achieved the same screen before moving on to the next step. Sooner or later, the class diverges in their levels of expertise. We then rush from one pupil to the next, trying to teach them the next skill they need to learn.
What exactly are these skills? In word processing, can the user change font sizes and styles, use bold, indent the first lines of each paragraph by the same amount, insert bullet points, use tables, headers, footers, pagination? Can they use spellchecker, thesaurus, copy and paste, find and replace?
Presentation packages such as PowerPoint also have a vast range of features, many similar to word processing and others, such as animation, that are unique to the packages.
In spreadsheets, can they use formulae, can they produce graphs and charts, can they export the graph to a word-processed document, can they use Lookup tables, can they use more than one worksheet, can they alter things on one worksheet and automatically alter any other sheets that would be affected?
Databases have other features, queries, simple ones and complex, sorts, macros, switchboards, to name a few.
So e-learning could be the solution to rushing around; we could use the computer software to teach them the skills. We decided to deliver the ECDL spreadsheet module and then do the Clait (Computer Literacy and Information Technology) module on spreadsheets. Clait offers a selection of assignments and each candidate taking Clait must successfully complete three different types of assignments - word processing, spreadsheets and databases were our choice.
We thought that the pupils who had done the ECDL spreadsheet module would find the practice Clait spreadsheet assignment easy. We were wrong. We found we had to teach them. They were not able to transfer the skills we thought they had learnt.
The whole issue of using e-learning to deliver skills is interesting. What my youngsters would prefer is just-in-time learning, where the information is delivered to them as they need it. So that a skill such as indenting first lines in paragraphs will be taught just as they complete an essay. On the other hand, unless you are forced to explore a package, you will never know what you don't know.
I have recently worked my way through several units on the Electric Paper ECDL CD. I learnt new tricks and new skills (see review p30), so there is definitely a place for learning tools like this to improve one's ICT skills (see free offer page 24).
Adults who are highly motivated to learn would definitely learn from skill training software. The software would be good for other teachers in the school, who want to improve their ICT skills yet feel awkward asking the ICT co-ordinator for some help.
Yet whether it is an adult learner or a youngster, however good the software, all skills need to be practised, not once, not twice but many, many times, and what we need in the classroom is software that allows the pupils to do this in an interesting, fun way.
Have I formed a verdict yet on e-learning for skills? No, this is not a clear-cut case. There are advantages and disadvantages. The wise teacher will use it when appropriate, and definitely on a Friday afternoon when peace would be bliss.
Helen Yewlett is head of computing and ICT co-ordinator at Ysgol Gyfun school, Swansea
Staff's skills needs
* Computer based skill learning is very well suited to helping staff across the curriculum gain extra confidence
* Summer is the ideal time for an ICT Co-ordinator to take an audit on staff ICT skills needs
* If you really want to know, then Ask the staff individually. This takes time!
* If you just want to identify the keen ones, then Create a questionnaire and send it out. We try and name every package we have in school
This is the Becta site and is always worth a look for ideas.
If you are interested in using software to teach ICT skills, this website has a list of several companies who supply ECDL training resources. We used ECDL software from Educational Multi Media. They linked up with Pearson Education afterwards. The ECDL Complete Solution Box Set can be found on the Pearson web site
this site contains everything needed for the ECDL including a CD with training software. It is currently selling for pound;120. Contact: Pearson Education, 128 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9AN Tel: 020 7447 2150
This is the Institute of IT Training's site. It's well worth finding out more about the Institute by looking at the site.
Electric Paper Company firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +353 1 289 1989 The Electric Paper Clait Plus Solution and The Electric Paper ECDL Single Used Disk are well worth using, especially with staff training.
The UK Office: Tel: 0800 626328