ICT - An engine for learning

29th October 2010 at 01:00
A Google-run academy for ICT teachers invites scepticism, but the search giant's first UK session switched participants on to other web-based tools, too. Jack Kenny reports

The idea of a multinational company training teachers in ICT may cause disquiet among some, but Tom Barrett is in no doubt that it was worthwhile.

"Each of us left bubbling with ideas and connections," says Mr Barrett, deputy head of John Davies Primary in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

Mr Barrett not only attended the first Google teacher academy to be held in the UK this summer, but also helped persuade the internet giant to set it up in the first place.

Critics say the scheme is a chance for an already-dominant company to market its products and cement its stranglehold on the market, but Cristin Frodella, Google's senior product marketing manager, says the impetus for the academy came from teachers themselves.

Ms Frodella is responsible for running teacher academies in the US and says she was approached at this year's Bett show and asked if the company was planning to extend them to the UK.

The result was around 50 teachers attending a two-day course in London over the summer. As well as training in specific skills, the teachers left with accreditation as Google-certified teachers. Ms Frodella says the aim is that eventually the scheme will be run not by Google, but by the teachers themselves.

"For us at Google it is the right thing to do," she says. "It is our commitment to education in the world. We just think it makes sense.

"In the future I hope to see that the teacher academies have grown into a true international network of teachers becoming a robust ecosystem, with teachers managing it themselves."

Participants were chosen to take part in the academy after submitting a one-minute video on classroom innovation. Kevin McLaughlin, a teacher at Old Mill Primary in Broughton Astley, near Leicester, says his two days at the academy were a revelation. "I learnt that I did not know much about Google," he says.

He is particularly enthusiastic about an application that allows new maps to be layered on top of old ones, to highlight how an area has changed.

He has already started spreading the message in school. "One of my colleagues said, 'Can you show me some of the Google stuff?' A lot of teachers don't realise what is behind the search in Google," he says. "He just sat back and said, 'This is amazing!' He hadn't realised that you can collaborate on documents from anywhere in the world."

Mr McLaughlin has also been able to point colleagues towards the potential to share the calendar system, and tools such as Google Sites, to create web pages and websites.

Google is not the only technology company to offer training to teachers. Microsoft and Apple both have well-established programmes. The Apple Teacher Institute, for example, is an annual four-day event in Cheltenham for teachers interested in developing their expertise in both hardware and software. The company also runs a "distinguished educator" scheme and courses at its regional training centres.

For its part, Microsoft has been running its innovative teachers' programme for seven years. "It celebrates what teachers are doing in the classroom so that they can learn from each other," says Kristen Weatherby, the company's Partners in Learning manager. The scheme is open to any teacher, and UK, European and worldwide events are held each year. Two UK teachers were chosen to present their work at the global event in Cape Town earlier this month.

Participants of the Google academy are asked to put together a personal action plan and lead up to three professional development activities after going on the course. They are also expected to take part in a Google online teacher community and share their ideas with other teachers in an end-of-year reflection.

Dai Barnes, an ICT teacher at St Benedict's, an independent Catholic school in Ealing, west London, says the first session at the academy, about searching, opened his eyes to what he had been missing. "I have been teaching how to search for years but this was so much better," he says.

Tools such as the wonder wheel and timeline can help teachers get so much more out of searching, he says. "Once they find them teachers will see that these are tools that they can use."

Doug Belshaw, a researcher with Jisc, which supports ICT development in education, was one of the trainers. His session covered using Google Earth, while others looked at Google Docs and other software. "The software encourages collaboration," he says.

This emphasis on co-operation was one of the key messages of the academy for Mr Barrett. He says the course has given him the confidence to take part in training other teachers, giving it an importance above being a marketing tool for Google.

"This sharing of knowledge will undoubtedly extend beyond Google apps and embrace other useful online tools," he says. "It is important for us to work locally within our own schools and regions to help develop a better understanding for these powerful web-based tools."



- Regional training centres: www.apple.comukeducationrtc

- Distinguished educator programme: http:ade.apple.comadelogin.php


- Partners in Learning: http:uk.partnersinlearningnetwork.com


- Teacher academy resources: http:sites.google.comsitegtaresources

- Tom Barrett's 20 Interesting Ways to Use Google Search: https:docs.google.compresentview?id=dhn2vcv5_723gp8cf433.

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