On the line

9th June 2000 at 01:00
You wouldn't expect a child to pick up and play the trumpet straight away; there has to be hours of practice before a tune emerges. Yet many assume that teachers are immediately in tune with ICT. The reality, as Niel McLean reports, is somewhat different.

In the Fifties, when my father was "between jobs", he briefly worked in a music shop. The trumpet was a fashionable instrument at the time and parents would visit the shop looking for a Christmas present for their beloved offspring. He would proceed to belt out a few choice choruses, money would inevitably change hands, and they would leave clutching their shiny new acquisition.

One January some disgruntled parents returned with a trumpet claiming "It's broken - our little Johnny can't get it to sound anything like you did." My dad asked whether John's music teacher had tried the trumpet, only to be greeted by blank expressions. The notion that you might have to learn to play the instrument had clearly passed them by. Thankfully we've recognised that training for ICT is essential, though I'm still not sure that we have a clear picture of the range of training needed.

If we are talking about normal people, rather than obsessive compulsives who look with disdain on anyone who has not served their time mastering arcane operating systems like CPM (a system once described by an ex-colleague of mine as "like kicking a dead whale along a beach"), then I think it is possible to identify three tiers of ICT training.

The bottom level addresses basic skills in using the technology. It is not an end in itself, however a basic competence and confidence is essential for the more interesting stuff. Here personal access is the key. It's no surprise that I learnt far more from the school's first BBC than the mainframe I used at university. Without access to a lorry and 25 willing helpers I could not take the mainframe home.

Different people require different degrees of this basic training. The key is to reach the point when you know what you don't need to know. Then you feel confident to move on. With a few skills and appropriate levels of access, teachers can use ICT to find, produce and print resources for use in their teaching. This is something to be proud of in its own right. ICT can really help teachers to plan and prepare their teaching and deal with mundane administrative tasks. Work with the pupils can come later. Few new drivers would be offering others lessons within weeks of passing their tests. Even fewer would offer them to groups of nearly 30.

The next tier of training is how to ue ICT in teaching. Knowing, in the Teacher Training Agency's words, "when, and when not" to use ICT, how to use it to meet teaching objectives, and the pedagogy associated with its use. The regular reader of this column will know that the last of these is something of an obsession of mine.

Good teaching with ICT requires all the traditional skills of teaching, such as classroom management, intervention and giving feedback, as well as some new ones, such as assessing work produced using ICT. I'd like to think that, as a result of the lottery funded ICT training, teachers will begin to grapple with these issues as well as having some good ideas for how to use ICT in their lessons.

Again, for most teachers a gradual approach is best, starting with uses of ICT where the teacher is firmly in control. We have seen great strides in interactive display technologies over recent years, including some solutions at the lower end of the market. Used imaginatively, teachers can produce lessons with a high degree of pupil interaction with more and more control being passed over to the children. This paves the way for the pupils' autonomous use of ICT, which is when things start to get really interesting.

The third tier of training should address curriculum planning and using ICT to manage learning. There is a world of difference between introducing a few ICT activities to spice up your teaching or address particular points, and producing a curriculum where the experiences in Year 8 build on those in Year 7. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority schemes of work for ICT have begun to address progression in children's ICT skills and knowledge. A fully-fledged ICT curriculum would make the links between these teaching activities and others across the curriculum. This is complicated stuff. Few schools have reached this point and it demands sophisticated planning skills.

The use of ICT to manage learning is similarly under-developed. Many schools possess the data that could help them evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching strategies they use. In many cases this data is held electronically in the schools information management system. However, few teachers have been trained in the skills needed to use the data in this way.

Nationally we are making a huge investment in what I have called the "second tier" of ICT training. Let's hope it repays the investment by leading on to the integration of ICT into teaching and learning.

Niel McLean is head of the schools directorate at the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency

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