Hi-tech tricks of the trade
As more and more teachers attend New Opportunities Fund training courses, ICT is gaining a stronger foothold in classrooms. One national approved training provider, the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT), offers courses that move beyond the intended "application of ICT to the teaching and learning of curriculum subjects" to a uniquely focused approach for the teaching of modern languages.
Despite clear guidelines, CILT reports teething difficulties as some teachers have elected to take part in their basic course, mistakenly believing that it would teach basic computing skills from scratch. Some teachers enlisting for the higher course have likewise found themselves misplaced, discovering that the higher level presupposes competence with computers and, more importantly, regular prior use of ICT in the languages classroom.
Unlike other training providers, CILT has opted for an inter-school approach, bringing together teachers from different schools with a view to encouraging students to use newly-acquired skills to consult and share good practice via e-mail. Courses are based on an eight-week distance learning programme that begins and concludes with a contact day when students have hands-on sessions and familiarise themselves with and review the vocabulary and practice of ICT-enhanced language teaching.
The course, set out on CILT's website, is divided into five weekly units of work: word processing, data processing, electronic communication, the world wide web, ICT resource and evaluation, concluding with a project unit. At the end of each unit on the basic course, students have to submit assignments to their tutor via e-mail in the form of practical lesson plans. A classroom-based project completes the assessment. Higher level students complete one more substantial project on practical class work.
At a course held at Bartley Green high school in Birmingham, a group of 27 students was split into basic and higher groups of 10 and 17. Leading the basic group, CILT tutor Ros Walker stressed the importance of "taking the main ideas and pedagogy of modern language teaching into ICT-based learning". Teachers in the group were initially keen to improve their knowledge about basic software. The difference between internet and intranet also gave rise to discussion. There was general agreement that while teachers are familiar with ICT terminology and functions, they do not appreciate its full range of uses.
Moving on to hands-on tasks, it was interesting to see the teachers' troubled expressions when initial log-on problems prevented them starting work. When screens froze and a problem with the school's server occurred, a lot of conferring went on. In true classroom spirit the teachers "copied" one another. This co-operation meant the tutor was not always needed - a good tip for practical classroom organisation.
Ros Walker commented on the importance of the course training not being conducted on state-of-the-art systems: "Teachers have to learn to cope with the type of systems they have in school." She did admit, however, that because of interruptions such as bells and tannoy announcements, there were disadvantages in using a school as a venue. Future CILT courses, she explained, would be held in professional centres based around the national Comenius network.
There was general consensus among participants that the disance-learning period had been demanding on their time. The four hours a week set by CILT were easily filled. Regular consultation with tutors was, therefore, not always possible to maintain. Most teachers felt strongly about the fact that they had been allocated little or no cover time in school to prepare project and assignment work.
One positive spin-off, however, had been combining the preparation of projects with hands-on work for pupils. Helen Dye's project involved revising the main tenses with a weak group of Year 12 French A-level students: "I use Powerpoint presentations to reinforce the rules, then reinforce this through exercises on Word that involve students cutting and pasting to conjugate verbs." She decided on this project on the basis of the group of students she would have most time with, the hardware in school and the time constraints of the course. Preparation, she explained, had taken up approximately three hours a week at home. Describing herself as "not a complete beginner", she says she found the tutor's comments on her project planning, in particular the guidance to specific websites, very useful.
Another teacher, Rosemary Pugh, explained that she found it difficult to research topics with limited time and resources. She decided to focus on a key issue: addressing the idea of using ICT to improve motivation, in particular gender disaffection. She used a Year 7 group and available school software, Word, Excel and the authoring package Fun with Texts. She used her CILT tutor in the distance learning period "mainly to check that I am working on the right lines".
All teachers reported that the level of support from ICT co-ordinators in school is a crucial element for success. For example, the process of transferring a file from internet to intranet was of interest to one teacher on the Birmingham course. She was advised to talk to her ICT co-ordinator about it since New Opportunities Fund courses are designed, first and foremost, to train in the application of technology. Consulting her ICT co-ordinator, she said, would not be easy due to his own time constraints. She also pointed out that she wanted to understand the process, from the outset, in the context of language learning.
CILT is addressing many of the issues that have arisen. The problem of teachers enlisting for the correct level of course is to be tackled by offering one core course. The key criterion for participation in this will be that teachers already have significant experience of using ICT in their teaching, allowing them, in addition to developing new teaching strategies, to share good practice in the group.
Location of courses is set to change, but Ros Walker says the format will stay the same: "We remain whole-heartedly committed to face-to-face training at the beginning and end of the course." On the distance-learning phase she explains that the CILT model has practical advantages: "It forces teachers into independently accessing a website, downloading materials and maintaining e-mail contact with their tutor simply in order to complete the course."
She says that feedback from teachers during the distance learning period has been very encouraging. A significant spin-off reported by a number of teachers is that they are also gaining a lot of new information on their subject through course-based internet surfing.
CILT, 20 Bedfordbury, London WC2N 4LB. Tel: 020 2379 5101 E-mail: philip.harding@CILT.org.uklWebsite: www.cilt.org.uk