I recently completed my Practice Based Enquiry as the final element of a Master's in Teaching (MTeach) for the Institute of Education in London, which culminated in a gargantuan 22,000 word dissertation* (not including appendices!)
This post attempts to 'cut to the chase' 4 years and 200 pages later, what, exactly, did I find was worthwhile? What really seems to work?
This was not 'action research' but 'practitioner research study', something my tutor was careful that should understand, action research seems to be an 'in' academic sounding term at the moment, but is easily wittered while few understand its iterative and longitudinal nature... The ‘practitioner research’ model was more suitable than an action research model, in that it is expected that practitioners will learn from their research into practice, it also aims at improving rather than proving as an approach to research (Campbell, 2007).
The focus of the enquiry was to consider:
What are the most effective strategies for overcoming the barriers to the authentic integration of digital technologies in schools?
The enquiry considered barriers to ICT (information communication technology) integration, and possible enabling solutions. Traditionally, the development of ICT expertise is facilitated by the provision of ‘training courses’. However, for the duration of this enquiry this approach was suspended, in order to explore more learner-centred, collaborative approaches for managing teacher development; utilising opportunities for teachers to learn through interactions with their colleagues and with their own students. This practitioner research study explored barriers to the integration of ICTs and the factors that inhibit their use of ICTs for teaching and learning, and the constraints on that use. The data indicated a strong consensus that the barrier of time was the most significant, with the barriers of training and tech support as contributory factors.
The case study centred on the role of a Digital Literacy Coach (DLC) in the design and exploration of interventions focused on these areas, with three non-technologically proficient, but experienced teachers. The enabling strategies explored, were not focused on a barrier-by-barrier basis, but to overcome a number of barriers simultaneously. Interventions that focused on utilising time in class with students, and ‘non contact’ time during the school day, were found to be particularly effective. Teachers became more confident about drawing on the strengths of their students as a support strategy. A concern that emerged in relation to ICT integration was that the teaching of ICT skills were becoming neglected. Practices to mitigate this were found to be effective but required careful monitoring to ensure that they are pedagogically driven, not skill driven. The data indicated a significant positive change in teacher response to these barriers, indicating that the interventions that were explored were effective in mitigating these barriers, interventions that could be applied in other teaching contexts.
Emphasise ‘continuing’ in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) over InSET
In short InSET (one off training days) is not effective unless it is a part of CPD, and regarding CPD it was generally felt that relying only on making time after school for CPD is ineffective. InSET (In Service Educational Training) ‘Training’ and ‘Courses’ do not really take account of the actual needs of teachers, “there can be no one size fits all training (Hu and McGrath, 2011, p 50)”. When teachers can see the explicit relevance of the technology to enhancing their practice, their motivation increases, along with willingness to make the effort and to find the time to change (Daly et al, 2009). For some teachers a certain amount of ‘unlearning’ is need, especially in terms of assumptions about what constitutes ‘training’ and when and where this is most effective... PD needs to stop being about certification and focus more on transformation. Intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation.
It's all about time, or more specifically the lack of it. Lack of time to fully prepare and research ICT materials for lessons, and to become better acquainted with hardware and software (Fabry and Higgs, 1997; Manternach-Wigans et al, 1999).
So this approach to CPD was all about being smarter about time, with what could be described as ‘less is more’. Less efficient, but more effective—specifically, often teaching identical, or very similar, skills to several small groups of teachers, at times and places more efficacious to them, rather than once, to all of them, at a time more convenient to the school.
Essential to the success of this change was the reframing of the dominant school paradigm of ‘training’, from a didactic, ‘instructor as expert’ approach, to that of working with a mentor/mediator; positioning learning around a ‘gradual release of responsibility’ (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983), where all ‘instruction’ is scaffolded for learners, learners who become capable of handling tasks with which they have not yet developed expertise, in effect, ‘learning by being’ (Brown & Adler, 2008)—a form of apprenticeship. With this in in mind, traditional ‘en masse’ teacher training was suspended in favour of a core set of ‘little and often’ strategies that were developed with the case study teachers and piloted with their grades; these 4 strategies (3Ts & a J) are described below:
Scenarios become commonplace whereby a student finds a new way of doing something or makes a discovery that the teacher has never come across before, but rather than feeling threatened by this, the teacher facilitates this and turns it into a “teachable moment” (Crook et al, 2010). In this case the teacher could give the student control of the screen, eg, via a projector, to guide the class (and often the teacher) through the process. The students have a natural sense of determination and perseverance when faced with technical problems; even though they accept that these problems happen, they see this as an inevitable aspect of using technology - not an exception.
At present I run 'classes' during a lunch-time each week, with 2 to 3 students per class (In a grade of 9 classes, that means a manageable number of about 20 Techsperts) are invited to attend and pick up skills (from the DLC and from each other) to share with their classes. This started off just being for certain units, but it's popularity with the students and teachers led to be being established as a year long arrangement.
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