Get on course for the most effective training

16th April 1999 at 01:00
"EACH TIME they do something right, throw a fish". Many people don't like the word "training" - it reminds them of performing seals. "Educator" is the word of preference. It might seem a subtle point, but it is important in the context of the training that teachers need to handle information and communications technology (ICT) with confidence in class.

So what makes a good trainer or a good course? Essentially ICT in education is about learning and the multifaceted ways in which we learn. The memorable learning course - so difficult to plan - provides revelations for the participants. You know that, for at least a time, they will see things differently. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen often - it's much more usual for a course to be just another brick in the wall of the house that we are building.

ICT learning seems to fall into two distinct sections: learning the skills, and learning to apply them in the curriculum. It is important to know where your course members are in their ICT evolution. The late Brent Robinson, of Cambridge University, was a larger-than-life character. Before I met him I had just about learnt how to use a computer for word processing and worksheets, but I had not taken it into the classroom. Robinson taught an in-service session for English teachers. The examples and techniques he demonstrated were so compelling that they were a revelation. I knew right then that I was capable of developing the technology in my teaching.

Sally Tweddle, a lecturer at Birmingham University, had a similar moment. "Daniel Chandler demonstrated Developing Tray (a software program) at a meeting of the National Association for the Teaching of English in 1983. I discovered that computers were not about numbers, but about words, poetry and the scaffolding of learning."

For Peter Stibbons of Anglia Multimedia, his revelation came on a course run by the late Bill Tagg of the Advisory Unit: "I saw the immense value of data analysis in history. I was on a Quest database training course, and we were introduced to the handling of census data. As a result, my wife and I spent part of the summer holiday entering the local census data for 1851 for the Suffolk town in which I was then teaching. I introduced the use of this into my next term's teaching, and we would discuss in class how to phrase questions to use for data analysis."

However, others are not so lucky, and many do not need it because the really important lesson is that we do not learn in the same ways. Angela McFarlane, of Homerton College Cambridge, says she learns by absorption and the gradual accruing of knowledge, and she is probably typical in that.

"Often the key moments in training sessions come when trainees meet others," says Peter Milford, technical development manager at St Vincent College in Gosport. He stresses the importance of human contact: "It is the informal agenda that is often the real benefit - the point where people come together and realise that they are not struggling in isolation. Their problems are the same as others - and answers can be found by sharing experiences and concerns. Perhaps that is when the scales drop from their eyes and they can then see their way forward."

For some it was not a course or a person but a single application - the power of email - that changed attitudes. Gloria Sayer, of the National Education Business Partnership Network, had been ambivalent about ICT: "I am not interested in technology but in the application of technology. Email is wonderful: it is fast, direct and transforms the way that I work. I am disappointed now when I find that people don't have email addresses because it means going back to the tedium of letter writing, envelopes, stamps. I worked on a document last week that was 40 pages and we sent it around four people all over the country for their input. How else could we have done it so quickly?" "There is no such thing as a great trainer," asserts Chris Seviour, an IT adviser in Hertfordshire, "only educators can be great. You can train someone to operate Excel but you need to educate them in the use of a spreadsheet. There is no uncertainty in training - if you click here the column will get wider. Education is all about uncertainty and doubt - you could use a spreadsheet but then a database might be better." That is education and learning. Jack Kenny

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