Teachers for teachers

9th March 2001 at 00:00
Rummaging through the National Archive of Educational Computing at Ultralab earlier this year, I stumbled across a video from 1985 of some small children we were working with. One seven-year-old is showing me how to build and replicate formulae on a spreadsheet (Multiplan on a very early Macintosh). Her confidence is awesome.

I showed the clip to a group of university governors as we explored how higher education might respond to the huge growth in information and communication technology (ICT) confidence of new students. I think we were all shocked when we realised that this confident seven-year-old had probably graduated last year. On the train home I continued to reflect on why our progression of her capability, and of our curriculum, had failed her. Luckily, the "Teachers for Teachers" project I was working on during the journey might just be the solution we have needed since 1985.

Why have so many teachers' great ideas and children's exciting new work not moved us forward quicker? There have been three difficulties: these new things that learners do with ICT are not easily compared to the old things they used to do and are thus undervalued; opportunities for the exchange of good ideas are scarcer in 2001 than they were in 1985 - teachers are busier, we don't have HMI pollinating ideas from school to school, and more CPD is run in-school (it's ironic that in an era of ICT we haven't done a better job of harnessing that technology to swap good ideas and good practice); the gains from new ideas need to be observed in the medium or long term.

Over a year ago, a Standards Task Force sub-group exploring the exchange of good ideas and good practice noted all this and a simple idea began to take root. There should be a place where teachers' good ideas, and the evidence that those ideas had worked, might be gathered together as a huge resoure for other teachers, as evidence for parents that this new-fangled stuff was working and for politicians that their commitment has genuinely moved learning forward.

Six months ago another Standards Task Force standing group on ICT collected good evidence that showed how much an engine for the exchange of good ideas and good practice was needed. So, with both funding and support from the Department for Education and Employment (DFEE), Ultralab has been able to build an online place to house a collection of just those ideas and that practice. Best of all, the collection is to feature teachers' reflections over time about what they felt got better in their classrooms.

Comfortingly, you need to know about learning, not Geek-speak, to contribute. The collection asks teachers to reflect on one thing that they are doing with ICT that others might learn from. They are asked to contribute several key components: their context, an image, the period of time that their observations cover, details that validate their status as teachers and, their judgement about why the activity was worthwhile. Good ethnographic evidence is welcomed and there is plenty of help on the site. A sense of audience is enhanced by feedback from the site showing how useful, and how visited, your contribution was. An impact on policy, accreditation and a global audience add up to plenty of motivation, but teachers all know that it is the chance as a professional to exchange ideas with others that is the most welcome.

At last, perhaps, the promise shown by that little seven-year-old back in 1985 can be built on, progressed and shared, preferably this time before the next generation of young learners has graduated.

Professor Stephen Heppell is director of Ultralab, a learning research centre The collection by teachers for teachers can be found at www.TforT.net

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