Portal to new ideas
When can you use ICT in RE? Apparently not when you're being inspected. The Chief Inspector's annual report painted a familiar picture of ICT in RE. In nursery and primary schools, achievement is weak in RE and weakest in ICT.
While better overall in secondary schools, aspects of RE and ICT "cause concern". A bright spot was identified in primary RE where pupils "encounter people of faith through the use of information and communication technology in order to enhance their understanding of contemporary religion".
There's plenty to suggest that ICT is used in RE; so if not during inspections, why? A complex interplay at work involves access and confidence. Statistics of computers in schools appear good, but it's still not uncommon to hear RE teachers talk of difficulties in getting to ICT equipment, particularly when computers have to be booked. The system can be competitive rather than designed for balanced access across the whole curriculum. Small clusters of computers in subject areas or classrooms mean lessons planned with a variety of activity. Pupils' progress in each has to be monitored, a demanding management task.
The second issue is confidence. If teachers don't have confidence in their management, the use of equipment and subject knowledge, little surprise that ICT is one step too far. Lack of subject knowledge and difficulties in preparing work at an appropriate level are major causes of concern in primary and no less so in secondary schools, where most have some RE taught by teachers who lack training.
ICT is often presumed to mean websites, but RE also has a well-regarded range of CD-Roms and videos. Television programmes specifically for RE or much general output can be used with imagination in RE. It's true that many of the resources focus on "learning about religion", but many do not. RE websites abound and most are free. Some focus on a particular religion or key stage, others are portals guiding users to checked sites. These can be invaluable for the busy teacher.
REOnline, launched in January and incorporating the REsite, is free and has links to hundreds of sites and thousands of key terms and topics. It also has specially written content on subjects identified as important by teachers. So when should ICT be used and how? Put simply, not all the time.
* Good planning is key - websites, videos and CD-Roms can be invaluable in building subject knowledge and illustrating strategies for effective use as well as in administration and accessing documents.
* Selection is vital - know resources before they're used so they're relevant to objectives; choose and adapt resources to your needs.
* Recognise management issues; get help in developing confidence with equipment, organise work then assess and evaluate it and your role as well as the ICT used.
Resources are being produced to encourage more effective use of ICT in RE.
Becta has RE sections on its website although it's not very easily navigated. It also has printed and other ICT resources.
A recent CD-Rom Effective Use of ICT in Subject Learning (Primary) has some useful ideas, albeit without suggestions for evaluation and sadly too much in plain text.
The DfES, with its strategy on Embedding ICT at KS3, has surprisingly produced its own resources alongside Becta's work. The RE pack has CD-Roms, and print materials for teachers looking to develop new ICT teaching strategies, including the popular interactive whiteboard. Video case studies show three classrooms which give an insight into how ICT can be used to enhance RE across the breadth of the subject.
Here there's a better glimpse of the thinking behind lessons using ICT.
This approach by the department and its agency may seem unco-ordinated and RE is complex. While teachers must work to local syllabuses and recognise national guidelines, exploring and exploiting laptops, whiteboards, videos and websites cannot be avoided.
What is taught in RE has changed, making it popular. The drive is centred on evaluation and analysis of religious belief, not just the nuts and bolts of what is believed. It's also a key element in educating the whole person.
ICT is part of "how" as much as "what" in learning; it's not about replacing, but adding, enriching and enabling.
Much of the attention so far has concentrated on teachers rather than pupils, teaching rather than learning. Increasingly, ICT in RE can show added value in sharing experience as much as presenting information.
It has the potential to lift pupils and take them to places not easily matched in most RE lessons. Pupils confident in ICT, perhaps with access at home more than at school, will increasingly look for it in RE.
Effective Use of ICT in Subject Teaching, (Primary) - Becta ICT advice http:ictadvice.org.uk and www.becta.org.uk
Embedding ICT @ Secondary KS3 Religious Education (DfES07992004) www.dfes.gov.ukictinschools and www.dfes.gov.uk
PCfRE is the professional association for teachers of RE: www.pcfre.org.uk REOnline has links to all the above as well as a wealth of information and material for teachers: www.REOnline.org.uk
Tony Parfitt is REOnline project manager and senior projects associate at the Culham Institute