The feel-good factor

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Charly Ryan claims that student self-empowerment is key to getting the most out of ICT, Dorothy Walker finds out why

Charly Ryan's top tip for achieving good practice with ICT: "Trust your students. Give them the framework for a project and then let them get on with it. You'll find they are very clever."

Charly is senior lecturer in primary science at University College (formerly King Alfred's College), Winchester, and the wisdom of his approach is borne out by an award-winning project carried out by his teacher-training students. The assignment was designed to help achieve a raft of learning goals. But it has also earned the college an enviable record of wins in a national web design competition, and helped the students secure jobs.

A visit to London's Science Museum has long been a feature of the third-year syllabus, as part of a program to develop knowledge and understanding of science. Four years ago, Charly decided to link the visit to the museum's Students' and Teachers' Educational Materials (Stem) project (sponsored by Toshiba and supported by The TES), a competition to create websites which help teachers and students get the most out of particular galleries or exhibits. Charly asked his undergraduates to work in groups, building and presenting to their peers a website targeted at an audience of their choice, and he gave them the option of entering their work in the Stem competition.

Their competitive debut in 2001, secured both first and second places in Stem's Adults category. That was followed by first and third place awards in 2002, and third place last year.

None of the University College winners have been web experts - some had success with straightforward pages based on Word software. "We give them some brief input on web design, and the key advice is to keep it simple.

The students put their effort into thinking about the audience rather than the bells and whistles," says Charly.

The students usually target primary teachers or primary student-teachers, although one group - all mature women with children - chose parent-helpers as their focus. They select a topic such as Forces or Materials, providing background information linked to resources such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) schemes of work.

Museum staff provide support, briefing the students with tips and ideas for using the exhibits with children, and offering advice on how to achieve the high standards the museum sets for its web resources.

All the groups present their sites for assessment by their peers. Some choose to demonstrate their pages, others explain the thinking behind their site or explore the pros and cons of working in a group. They also complete a tutor-assessed exercise in which they reflect on how they went about their work, having negotiated the assessment criteria in advance.

Teamwork is an important ingredient. Many students go on to incorporate tips they have gleaned from their colleagues into their own practice - an approach which Charly himself employs to extend his ICT skills. "My software repertoire expands when someone says: 'Why don't you do it like this?'"

The exercise uses ICT as the catalyst for achieving a wealth of learning objectives, ranging from organising off-site visits to taking responsibility for one's own professional development. "In terms of science education and teaching and learning in the primary school, this is high-level work," says Charly. "And several graduates secured their teaching jobs because schools saw that they could develop or entend their web material."

Last year was the final year of the Stem competition, but Charly continues to run similar assignments. Practice has been shared at science education conferences, with the help of the Science Museum, and the Stem web pages will feature on the college's recently revamped website, although work has had to be done to revive some pages which slipped beyond reach after students graduated. "We didn't realise how well the project would take off, but we have now learned how to manage a library created by teams of people, and understand the importance of making material future-proof," says Charly.

Certain to survive is the feel-good dimension to the project.

"Whenever we trust students to go off and do a difficult job, they make the most of the opportunity," says Charly. "And they feel good about succeeding. That process of development - of feeling better about yourself - is an important part of education. When students look back, I am sure it will be one of the things they remember, as opposed to what I said in which workshop."


* Trust your students. If they don't have space to grow, they can't grow.

* Improve your practice through teamwork with colleagues and students. One of my favourite websites was first shown to me by a five-year-old pupil.

* Use "Tip of the Day" services - a painless way to extend your ICT repertoire.

* You can't take backups of your work too often, or have too many copies.

* In meetings, type the minutes as you go along. It saves time and distributes power, as everyone agrees what is being written.


* Word processing and email. I use them every day.

* Data-logging technology.

For capturing data in science investigations. LogIT data loggers and software from DCP Microdevelopments:

* Control boxes.

For controlling technology such as motors or sensors in science investigations.

* Digital cameras.

I recently worked with a primary school which takes pictures of pupils'

work, for use in electronic attainment records.

* A data projector.

My room is a strange shape, and the angle of view of an interactive whiteboard isn't sufficient for most students to be able to see it.


* www.thinkingtogether.

Thinking Together - encouraging children to think and learn.

* http:cmex-www.arc.nasa. govCMEXMap%20of%20Maps.html

NASA Mars Exploration.

* www.aft.orgpubs-reports american_educatorindex.htmAmerican Educator - short articles summarising current research.


Yucky - how your body works, especially the gruesome bits.

* educationhpagespblack.html

Prof Paul Black's Page - information and resources on formative assessment and assessment for learning.

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