OK, so we're all getting used to the ICT resources available to aid us in education, but do we have sufficient knowledge to use these tools to the best effect? Do you know where the best resources to do the job are? George Cole paints the broad picture while others concentrate on key areas and issues
Imagine you had never driven a motor car. Then one day, someone buys you a car, fills it up with petrol, gives you a couple of driving lessons and says: "Now drive me across continental Europe." Many teachers must feel they are in a similar situation when it comes to using information and communication technology (ICT) in education. ICT is no longer the preserve of the computer specialist, who did strange things to strange machines behind the closed doors of the ICT suite. These days, government, parents and pupils expect teachers to be able to use ICT - and to use it regularly in their lessons.
However, surveys show many teachers are still not confident about using ICT. The Department For Education and Employment (DFEE) says 62 per cent of teachers are confident, while the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa) says the figure is less than half (47 per cent). But whatever figure proves to be more accurate, it still means that many tens of thousands of teachers don't feel confident about their abilities to use ICT in the classroom.
A number of initiatives have been developed to rectify the situation, including the pound;230 million ICT training programme financed by the New Opportunities Fund (NOF), and administered by the Teacher Training Agency (TTA), which is designed for all of the UK's 400,000 teachers. In January, NOF announced that more than 50 per cent of teachers had now signed up for training programmes, but that still means that around 200,000 have not. All newly qualified teachers must now show a minimum level of ICT competence before reaching qualified teacher status.
The Teacher Training Agency (TTA) says around 80,000 trainee teachers have entered Initial Teaching Training Institutions (ITTI) since 1998, when ICT became a compulsory part of the ITTI curriculum. The curriculum covers both basic practical skills (such as knowing how to use a printer) and the pedagogy of ICT in the classroom, but everyone agrees that newly-qualified teachers still require lots of help and support when it comes to using ICT for teaching and learning. Other groups that will require help and support include teachers returning to the classroom after a long absence (such as those tempted by the Government's initiative to get retired teachers back into the classroom), as well as staff recruited from overseas.
Yet training is only part of the solution. If teachers are going to develop the skills, confidence and competencies required for using ICT effectively, they need to have good access to equipment and resources. This also means having sufficient time for planning and preparation. Last September, the educational ICT company RM ran a focus group with 10 heads of department, which looked at their main concerns regarding the use of ICT. The most pressing issues were: finding resources, knowing what software and strategies were good to use, knowing whether the software was network-friendly, and having enough time. "If you don't have the time, it's easier to simply go back to what you have done already," says Heather Atkinson, senior marketing executive at RM.
Teachers also need to have access to computers at home. Some schools and local education authorities (LEAs) have invested a lot of money in providing teachers with their own laptops, but in far too many cases, teachers are finding it hard to get their hands on computers. That is why there was such widespread frustration and disappointment at the DFEE's decision to restrict this year's Computers for Teachers scheme (which subsidises the cost of purchasing a computer) to maths teachers at key stage 3.
Yet despite these issues, many believe the picture is promising. Steve Bacon, general secretary of NAACE, the computer advisers association, says:
"I would not want to underestimate the size of the job to be done, but few terachers would disagree these days that ICT can improve teaching and learning. We are seeing an increase in teacher confidence and competence in ICT." Stephen Heppell, director of the Ultralab, a leading research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University, says social trends are helping teachers gain confidence in ICT: '"More and more middle class, middle aged people are buying computers and seeing them as a necessary part of professional life at home. Computers no longer look like something for geeks to hug, and prices are coming down. Also, they are discovering that IT is not as difficult as some companies with vested interests would like to suggest." However, Heppell is concerned that these days there is little scope for teachers authoring their own content, as was the days when Spectrum and BBC computers were used in many schools. Part of the problem is a lack of time, but the authoring tools are also not in place.
The good news is that there is a lot of support for teachers who are new to ICT. In secondary schools, this will include the ICT co-ordinator, and many primaries have teachers with specific responsibility in this area. Many LEAs still have ICT advisers and some even have ICT support centres. There is also a lot of help available from organisations such as the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) and the DFEE via the Virtual Teacher Centre website . The IT Learning Experience (ITE), part of the school of education at the University of North London, has a staff of 24 and offers schools within Greater London courses and training (it is also an NOF training provider). The ITE also publishes ICT resources (these are available nationally) including, a guide to using Microsoft Office, and Victorian Britain at key stage 2. "We're finding a number of schools are also providing ICT training for their classroom helpers and support staff, which is an encouraging sign that schools are investing in ICT training," says Steve Oram, ITE's director.
Even those teachers who are learning about how to use ICT for themselves can be asked for advice from parents, which can range from "What's the best computer to buy?" to "What software is good for learning maths at home?" The Parents Information Network (PIN) has a website that provides parents with a variety of information including, advice on buying a PC, using Internet filtering software and a guide to good software. This is also a good resource for teachers. PIN is developing printable information sheets, which teachers will be able to handout to parents. PIN is also involved in a pilot project, commissioned by the DFEE, to evaluate 400 home learning websites, which will be published on PIN's website this September. Jacquie Disney, PIN's director, says: "Don't assume the computers and software used in school will the same as those used home. So it's acceptable to say that you are not an expert. It's OK to say 'I don't know.'" George Cole is a freelance journalist and a former teacher Virtual Teacher Centre
Part of the National Grid for Learning and offers a rich mix of contacts, information, advice, guidance and resources http:vtc.ngfl.gov.uk
Teachers Online A project designed to show how being online can help classroom teaching and learning. Includes news, case studies, projects support materials and free monthly newsletter http:teachersonline.ngfl.gov.uk
A free pack published by the DFEE and Becta with information on topics such as establishing an Internet usage policy and setting up your own website http:safety.ngfl.gov.ukMaking websites work is a free multimedia CD-Rom available from Becta showcasing award-winning school and college websites. Includes good practice in Web design. Can be ordered from firstname.lastname@example.org
ICT in Practice Awards The Becta ICT in Practice Awards Scheme awards teachers who have demonstrated outstanding practice in ICT. Details of this year's winners and runners-up are at www.becta.org.uknewspracticeawards
Becta information sheets A wide variety of information sheets are available online at www.becta.org.uktechnologyinfosheetsindex.html
Teacher Resource Exchange An opportunity for teachers to share ideas and resources. More than 500 contributions available at: http:contribute.ngfl.gov.uk
Educational Software Database Has information on thousands of educational software packages, available in the UK and targeted at all key stages. http:besd.becta.org.uk
ICT Support Network Directory Helps schools identify providers of ICT support. Contains more than 400 UK support providers.
Fischer Family Trust Conducts educational research. Sponsored by RM. Curriculum areas give details of ICT resources schools found the most useful in various subject areas. www.fischertrust.org
RM The company is one of the largest distributors of software titles (more than 600). Also has a lending library that allows schools to loan and try out software for up to one month. www.rm.com
Schoolsnet.com Offers lesson plans for many subjects in key stages 3 and 4, plus a guide to some of the best websites on the Net. www.schoolsnet.com
Teacher Training Agency... includes materials and resources for school-based teacher trainerswww.canteach.gov.uk
The IT Learning Experiencewww.unl.ac.ukiteParents Information Network www.pin.org.uk
Teachers Evaluating Educational Multimedia (TEEM)A database of evaluations carried out by practising teachers on educational software. A good way of learning about many of the software packages on the market. www.teem.org.uk
Micros and Primary Education Association (MAPE) Formed to support primary school teacher using ICT. Website includes teacher resources and various ideas for lessons www.mape.org.uk
BBC Education www.bbc.co.ukeducation
Granada Learning The largest educational software publisher whose empire includes Anglia Multimedia and Semerc, the special educational needs publisher and developer www.granada-learning.com