Computers are here to stay. But fear not, says Bernard Davies, there's plenty of help out there - even for technophobes
If you are qualifying this year, you do not have to pass the information and communications technology skills test that will be obligatory for all newly qualified teachers next year. But, you will still need to show you can meet new standards for using IT set down by the government last year for all new teachers.
For some young teachers, the information age dawned early in life and they will have no difficulty clearing this hurdle. But research suggests many, possibly a majority, of student teachers will require a lot of help in using IT - in both their own work as a teacher and as part of their teaching. So the first lesson is, if you find computers a bit baffling, don't panic. Most of your fellow trainees probably do too.
Gordon Guest and Malcolm Hughes, researchers at the University of the West of England in Bristol, found that two students out of three on a primary PGCE course needed significant levels of support just to make ordinary use of a computer for themselves, let alone teach children how to use them in their learning. One in six of these 98 students had little or no experience of IT.
The good news, however, is that by the end of their course they all met the required standards. One in seven were even able to integrate IT in their teaching "in new and innovative ways".
The Government is insisting on higher standards of computer readiness. In the DFEE Requirements for Courses in Initial Teacher Training, it says:
"Information and communications technology is more than just another teaching tool. Its potential for improving the quality and standards of pupils' education is significant.
"Equally its potential is considerable for supporting teachers both in their everyday classroom role, by reducing the time occuppied by the administration associated with it, and in their continuing training and development."
It adds: "Providers of intial teacher training must ensure that only those trainees who have shown they have the knowledge, understanding and skills to use ICT effectively in teaching are judged to have successfully completed an ITT course leading to Qualified Teacher Status."
Malcolm Hughes says: "Time on a one-year PGCE course is of the essence, but the standards (laid down by the Government) are attainable within the time available.
"You can't expect students to go in and work with children using computers unless they have developed their own IT skills first."
Optional workshops were provided for students to improve their IT skills so that formal course sessions could concentrate on more advanced matters such as what software to use with children and good teaching practice.
The West of England University survey found those students with a computer at home were also at an advantage. In a sense this is a self-fulfilling prophecy - you are unlikely to spend pound;1,000 or so on a computer unless you are reasonably well inclined towards them. But having your own does increase the opportunity to get to grips with the technology and to get plenty of practice. In the survey, some students on teaching practice found it difficult to get back to college to use the facilities provided there.
For a minority, taming the computer is not just a matter of learning a few new tricks. There may be a real fear of technology to overcome. Diane Duncan, senior lecturer in education at the University of Hertfordshire, advises* those who regard themselves as technophobes to:
* See ICT as a new skill to be learned. Approach it in the same way as learning to drive a car. Anyone with basic intelligence can learn to use a computer. Take one step at a time, in short bursts of activity, and you will be surprised at how quickly you build up a repertoire of skills and techniques.
* Invest in your own computer if you can. Nothing is so valuable as being able to practise and make mistakes in the privacy of your own home. Once you have one, you will quickly wonder how you managed without it.
* Find a friend who is a bit more competent than you and agree times when you will both carry out assigned tasks on campus together. In exchange, offer help in an area in which you feel more confident than your partner. Mutual support in acknowledged areas of weakness can be extremely valuable way of overcoming fear and inadequacy.
* Set a few clear targets to achieve each week. Better to undertake a small number of new skills and procedures on a regular basis than to do nothing for several weeks and then try to cover too much ground in one session.
* There are often two or three different ways of carrying out the same procedure. Take risks and experiment with these and other facilities on the screen. Unless you throw it on the floor, a computer is very hard to break.
* There are now some very accessible guides for software packages. Ask your tutor for recommendations and follow one through as a weekly target.
*Tips adapted from Becoming a Primary School Teacher: A Study of Mature Women by Diane Duncan, published by Trentham Books, pound;9.95. It contains advice on study skills, teaching practice, interviews and taking up your first job.