E-learning 'doesn't exist'

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Neil Munro and John Cairney report from the Scottish Education and Teaching with Technology show in Glasgow

There is no such thing as "e-learning", according to a senior schools inspector who has urged teachers to take the initiative away from the technology experts.

Alan Ogg, lead inspector for future learning, told a seminar at the Scottish Education and Teaching with Technology show, which is supported by The TES Scotland: "E-learning doesn't exist. What we should be talking about is learning which is wholly or partially delivered using e-resources."

The only barriers to more effective use of ICT (or Into the Classroom of Tomorrow, as he put it) is teachers' time and imagination, Mr Ogg said.

He urged schools not to think of the application of technology to learning in the negative sense of "how do we cope?" but more positively as "how do we manage it?" The key importance of leadership in ICT developments was stressed by several speakers at the conference and seminar sessions.

"We need to move on to make ICT a natural part of learning and teaching," Mr Ogg said in a point that became a conference mantra. "The baton has to be passed from the technology people to the teacher and then to the learner."

The time was ripe for a debate on the pedagogical issues arising from ICT and teachers had to take ownership of it. "ICT has tended to be something that has been 'done' to teachers: the hardware simply arrives and you have got to get on with it, you have got to go and receive training although of course it's 'voluntary', and so on."

Mr Ogg defended the pound;20 million ICT training programme for teachers and librarians supported by the New Opportunities Fund. "It did not deliver everything it set out to deliver but some of the things it set out to do were a bit grandiose in my view," he said.

The training had, however, brought people up to a benchmark, it had raised awareness of ICT and it had "sensitised" people to the possibilities of using technology in learning.

These possibilities involved considerable prizes. School inspections have shown that ICT can improve pupil motivation as well as skills, encourage collaboration with peers as well as independent learning, and persuade pupils to take risks and solve problems as well as present their work to a high quality.

The use of ICT also opens up a major new world of resources which will be extended through Spark, the new national educational intranet for Scotland, Mr Ogg said. The authorities expect it to be fully operational by 2005, giving every pupil a password and personalised homepage and allowing teachers to access lesson plans posted by other teachers.

But Mr Ogg warned that these developments would require "strategic leadership" of ICT if they were to be successful and he revealed that an initiative developed south of the border would shortly be piloted in Scotland.

Stuart Robertson of the Scottish Executive's new educational developments division, reinforced these messages at another seminar in which he referred to the "critical" importance of good leadership and management.

Mr Robertson acknowledged that ICT can be frightening and challenging for teachers because learning "is not hierarchical like maths where you have to complete X successfully before you can tackle Y".

ICT "masterclasses" across Scotland were designed "to build local capacity to support professional development". Teachers who were able to integrate ICT effectively and pupils who had ICT capability were necessary to create "the e-confident school".

The masterclass programme has so far involved 310 classroom teachers, 20 librarians, 120 senior school managers and 120 education officers from all 32 authorities and the independent sector, in addition to 30 staff from the teacher education institutions. The idea is that those who attend become experts in their schools and local areas.

Tony Richardson, director of online learning at the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham, told a seminar that the UK is "on the cusp of something really exciting in ICT". But Mr Richardson, too, warned that it could not be sustained without good leadership.

"We now have real evidence that well-led and well-managed schools with good levels of ICT and confident teachers can extend learning and improve achievement using ICT."

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