Letters extra: EAZ

16th February 2001 at 00:00
Laptops for ludditesnbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

OK - so you're thinking that I'm only fanning the flames of disenchantment in the profession. I'm thinking that someone with vision and clout might read this and it might turn out to be the final piece of the jigsaw, the final coin to drop, the straw of evidence that breaks the back of resistance to the obvious. The obvious is: you want to raise children's standards in ICT - get the teacher competent and confident first - to do that - give them training and a computer.

This EAZ started January 1999; I was employed to begin work as ICT consultant at Easter 1999. That first summer term I spent unpacking and setting up the 60 or so RMs that had been ordered during the first term, and working with teachers to help them become familiar with the new software. At the same time I sampled all the Year 2, Year 5 and Year 6 children in the EAZ to form an assessment baseline. As I worked my way around the four primaries, two junior and two infant schools in the zone, talked with the teachers and children, the task ahead became very clear.

It was not a little daunting. None of the schools had owned a modern PC; most had used a mix of old Acorn Archimedes in various stages of their death throes. The majority of teachers and children were starting almost from scratch - we had NOF training coming up with an assumed level of competence and access to hardware, and targets to meet too. Working with teachers who only had access to a computer in school - the case for the vast majority - without the means to practice what they were learning, much less begin to teach the children, was barely chipping away at the edges. Drastic action was needed - and the form of the action was clear.

Using evidence from the NCET pilot 'Multimedia Portables for Teachers', and from the Lancaster University research, I put together a proposal for the provision of a laptop for every teacher in the EAZ who worked five and above. The laptops would come equipped with Office 2000, modem and ISP. Coupled with this, again a lesson from the NCET pilot, were to be a series of training sessions so that teachers could quickly begin to use them effectively. The proposal also ensured that children would have access to more hardware. The laptops should be in school during the day for the use of the children - either providing another machine per classroom, or could be rounded up within the school to form temporary suites for class teaching.

The proposal was passed by the Forum that controls the EAZ and the laptops finally arrived just before Easter 2000. Teachers filled out a baseline self-assessment pro-forma so that we could measure the impact on teachers' confidence and competence and on the children's learning.

The change was stunning. Teachers who, in defensive tones a term previously, had asked to be considered 'special needs' or declared themselves to be Luddites were suddenly emailing each other, using the net to search for long lost ancestors or information about holidays or dog breeding or even accessing on-line resources for use in their classrooms.

The more competent staff members designed planning grids for the use of colleagues - who took them on with a murmur - well almost. Children were using them individually, in small groups, and in whole class teaching.

I'm not saying this was a smooth process - we have had several stolen (and replaced) - one by a parent on a parent's evening. Quite a few have had to be sent in for repairs, which is a huge inconvenience now that teachers have become accustomed to using them on a daily basis. Nor am I saying that the enthusiasm for using them is universal - there is still a small number of Luddites out there.

However the effect of demonstrating to teachers the high value we place on them, and the recognition of their needs in terms of the tools for the job is tangible. All the teachers in the Bulwell (Nottingham) EAZ have the means to do the NOF training without a huge outlay of cash, when and where they choose to do it. They have a computer on which to practice new skills, plan and model lessons, in fact use as they will. They have devoted large amounts of their own time willingly to learning more about the potential of the computer, and the children in our schools are now beginning to demonstrate, in terms of their achievement, the benefits of this approach.

Why can't it be so for all?

Marianna Cole
ICT consultant
Bulwell (Nottingham Education Action Zone)
41 Crosby Road
West Bridgford
Nottingham NG2 5GGnbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

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