Get the most from ICT

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Are student teachers and newly qualified teachers getting an opportunity to use the ICT skills they learnt in their Initial Teaching Training Institutions (ITTIs)? Anecdotal evidence and some research would suggest not. In 1998 the DFEE published Circular 498, which required ITTIs to follow a national curriculum for ICT. As a result of Circular 498, all newly-qualified teachers now leave college or university equipped with a basic set of ICT skills and some understanding of how ICT can help teaching and learning.

The Association for Information Technology in Teacher Training (ITTE) believes that Circular 498 has helped raise the confidence and competence of ICT among student teachers, and also helped them focus on the bigger picture of how ICT fits in with their teaching. Although some ITTIs report problems in providing sufficient resources for teaching ICT, and that some lecturers lack confidence in ICT, the general picture is that ITTIs are doing a reasonable job in equipping their students with ICT skills and methodology. The bottleneck appears to be what happens to students on teaching practice.

Clive Opie, ICT co-ordinator for ITT courses at Sheffield University, says one of the main problems is the curriculum itself: "It's ironic but the national curriculum is inhibiting student teachers from developing their ICT skills. There's so much pressure on them to meet the requirements of the national curriculum that these take on a prominent role." Opie adds that as ICT is not essential for completing any secondary school course, it's easy to see why it could take a back seat.

In fact, Opie and colleague Fukuyo Katso argue in an academic paper, A Tale of Two NCs, that there are conflicting demands between the school curriculum and the ITTI curriculum. They add that one of the requirements of Circular 498 - that trainee teachers get an opportunity to use their ICT skills in a classroom - presumes there is a support infrastructure for this between the ITTI and its partnership schools. It also pre-supposes that all schools are in a position to offer student teachers the opportunity to use ICT in a classroom.

But research by Opie and Fukuyo suggests not. The two researchers point out that their work is not a survey of the national picture, but it does suggest that much needs to be done to help student teachers use ICT in schools. Their survey of 96 student teachers found that 60 per cent of them felt that the ICT support in one of their practice schools was not very good, while 10 per centfelt it was not very good in both of their schools.

There was also wide variation in departmental support, with maths departments providing a high level of support, and history departments little or none. And despite the high profile of the NGFL, only one quarter of student teachers used the Internet on teaching practice. Another problem is time, says Opie: "One brilliant geography student had gone into a school and created Web pages and a virtual field trip, but it was all done in his own time."

This research is supported by the views of an ITTI lecturer who works in the north: "The biggest difficulty continues to be the school experience. The opportunities for students to make good, effective use of ICT in the classroom are few and far between. Many students can go through the whole four-year course with no classroom experience whatsoever." The lecturer believes that student teachers should be given compulsory ICT tasks that must be used in a classroom. A trainee teacher said she would like the opportunity to learn more ICT organisational skills, such as can you leave children on a computer in a different room, and how do you make an ICT presentation to a whole class? Yet sadly, she had not had the chance to try these things in a practical situation.

The TTA points out that it has allocated an extra pound;13 million to support ICT in partnership schools and it is currently running a consultation exercise that will result in the ITTI national curriculum being rewritten. The NGFL and NOF training programme means more ICT resources are going into schools and more teachers are using ICT. However, as Opie and Fukuyo point out, these changes will take time to become effective. And while the school examination system and the curriculum remain unchanged, there seems little scope for all teachers to use ICT more widely in the classroom.

Special thanks to Mary Hayes, secretary of ITTE, for her help with this feature TTA e-book publication by educational ICT writer and publisher Terry Freedman, Using computers in classrooms, has proved popular with teacher trainers, who have distributed many copes to their students. It has 200 tips for teachers and covers a wide range of topics, from planning to use computers, to how to get the best out of your ICT co-ordinator. It also has a jargon buster and useful Web links. A trial version of the ebook is available for free at www.ictineducation.orgebook01news.htm A full version costs pound;9.99Tel: 0703 115 0271

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