5 reasons schools need computing teachers with expertise in the subject

Some Principals and Headteachers think that a good way around the problem of teaching computing is to not worry about whether teachers have subject knowledge at all. “All we need are facilitators”, they say, “while the kids can teach themselves and each other.” This is, as any teacher knows (or should know), easy to say, less easy to do, and not altogether the most desirable thing to do even if you can do it. However, just in case your school happens to be “led” by one of the aforementioned Headteachers, here are some arguments you may want to use. I think that any one of them should suffice, and all of them together make for a cast-iron case.
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Maintaining Standards

Evening Standard Get London Reading appealSo, you're responsible for the use of educational technology in the school, but its use and principles are taught across the curriculum rather than as a discrete subject. In other words, by non-specialists in all likelihood. How can you maintain high standards in ICT and the use of educational technology in such a situation?

In this article I look at 14 suggestions.

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A conference, summer CPD and a UNESCO report

Here are three options for you to consider in order to give a boost to your professional development:

  • The forthcoming ISTE conference in Philadelphia.
  • A cornucopia of ideas for professional development over the summer break, in case all that relaxing gets you down.
  • A report from UNESCO on Learning, Innovation and ICT.

All this was published last week in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter for educational ICT professionals. Subscribe now (literally: right now) and you’ll stand a chance of winning a premium version of Xobni, a pretty good email management tool. I’m running the draw for that at 10 pm UK time today.

Read on for the details of those three resources.

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Technology in the media

I'm interested in how technology is used in the media, and think that in many respects the media is more innovative than schools when it comes to using the technology. I think it would be interesting to explore this, and perhaps a good way of starting off would be to join an online discussion this evening with Tony Johnston of the Press Association.
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Guidance for the BETT Show (and other conferences)

Last year I published a guide to BETT (and other conferences) for subscribers to the free newsletter, Computers in Classrooms. I think the advice is still relevant. I looked at the following:

  • 9 reasons to attend.
  • 4 arguments to put to your boss as to why you should be allowed to attend.
  • 3 other kinds of colleagues who should attend.
  • 13 things to do in advance.
  • 16 ways to get the most out of the show.
  •  7 ways to follow up afterwards (once you’ve recovered!).

You can read that online here.

Evaluation of Learning Without Frontiers Pre-Conference

I was looking forward to hearing some great presentations and startling revelations at the Learning Without Frontiers Conference. But I spent almost my whole time there talking to people. The way I figure it, if something is really good I'll get to hear about it anyway, so given the choice between listening to a talk, and discussing –and-catching up-and-networking type of activity, I choose the latter. At least, I did yesterday. So, how was it for me?
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Dates For Your Diary

At the moment we have a very unfortunate situation in the UK: at the very time people need to be getting as much professional development as they can, because of the need to keep up with all the changes taking place, it’s becoming harder for them to do so because of budget tightening. Nevertheless, do try to get to at least one professional development training event a term, if possible. As a public service, I’ve listed some of the ones which have come to my attention
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31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 22: Organise In-Service Training

I am firmly of the belief that an ed tech leader is only as good as the team they're leading, and that good in-service training plays a large part in improving teachers' skills, knowledge and understanding.

A task a day for 31 daysLet's take that phrase 'good in-service training': what does 'good' mean? What is 'in-service training'?

Not all INSET has to involve PowerPoint

The meaning of 'good'

I think in-service training is good if it enables the teacher to do something s/he couldn't do before, or to be able to do it better. I'm using the word 'do' in a very broad sense. It could be that, having attended a course, you have a greater understanding of a particular issue than you did before, without necessarily having to actually do anything with your new-found knowledge.

(I'll explore this in another post, but I believe very strongly that there needs to be time and space set aside for teachers to explore issues as an intellectual endeavour, and not merely so that some pre-defined 'output' measure can be improved. But that's for another day.)

Ideally, in-service training should be useful for the individual teacher, the ICT team and the school as a whole.
Teachers should have a huge say into what training they will experience. I've seen instances of where teachers are sent on courses they don't want to attend, and denied permission to go on courses they do. That's a ridiculous way of trying to get the best out of your staff. Admittedly, there may be some things which everyone has to attend, such s information about a new curriculum, but there has to be give and take.

As far as what is good for the ICT team is concerned, that should be discussed by the ICT team. As team leader you will need to take some decisions, but they need to take into account your colleaues' concerns and ideas too.

Types of in-service training for ed tech specialists

But what is in-service training? Traditionally, it's a course. However, it could take a number of forms, such as:

Types of in-service training for non-specialists

Bear in mind that one of your jobs might be to organise training for non-specialist staff. Ideas that come to mind include:

  • As you don't know what colleagues know or don't know, I'd suggest conducting a survey to find out what sort of things they would like training on.
  • Running a regular ICT surgery. I'll be covering this in more depth soon.
  • Running specific training for teaching assistants who help out in ICT lessons. I've always thought it best for all concerned for them to have at least a basic level of competence in using technology.
  • Encouraging colleagues from other subjects to invite you to their team meetings to help them discover how technology could be used in their lessons.
  • Making a video of the ICT going on around the school, and showing it at a staff meeting. (Students can take this on as a project.)

Your task for today

 

There's a lot to think about there, but here are a few issues which you might like to consider in your 15 minutes today:

  • Who is going to deliver the training? It doesn't have to be you or an outside expert. One of your colleagues might be able and willing to do so. I've had pupils giving training, and the teachers loved it because it was so effective for them.
  • Does training always have to take place as an extra-curricular activity? Doesn't that discriminate against colleagues who are paid by the hour? Since the training they enjoy will benefit the school (one hopes), should they not be paid to attend it?
  • Does training always have to take place after school? After all, that discriminates against colleagues with family commitments. How about lunchtime sessions as well? I don't think there is an ideal time for training or a foolproof answer to this type of concern, but I think it's important to try and be as flexible as possible.
  • Does all training have to take place 'live'? If you were to video your training sessions, the recordings could be made available on the school's VLE for colleagues to access in their own time.
  • The same goes for screencasts. Why not create a series of short screencasts to cover the basic aspects of applications which are commonly used in the school?
  • Does training have to take place in school or a teacher development centre? How about a team visit to an exhibition? I have organised some great visits for teachers to work places where technology is used.If such days are planned and organised well, they can be really effective professional development.
  • Does all training or professional development have to be organised? What about taking part in online discussions? What about making the technology available and allowing people to use it how they see fit, or simply to explore it?
  • Looking at your team as a whole (or yourself if you don't have a team), what are your most pressing training needs? Where are the gaps in your knowledge or skill set? How and when can you start to address this?

Further reading

You may also find the following articles useful:

5 Minute Tip: Keeping a Professional Development Record.
Web 2.0 For Rookies: Proving Professional Development.
                    

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Proving Professional Development

An interesting issue arising from people's use of Web 2.0 applications like Twitter, Facebook and social networks is that casual or informal learning has now become embedded in people's working lives. In the past, there was a fairly clear division between the kind of learning you experienced by chatting with colleagues in the staffroom or watching a TV programme on the one hand, and going on a course (usually for a day or a series of evenings) on the other. Recording the former never really came into it, and recording the latter is fairly straightforward: you just need to decide how you're going to do so, as discussed in a 5 Minute Tip on the subject.

But the landscape has changed now. Many people, myself included, tend to either have a stream of tweets constantly going on in the background, using 3rd party tools like Tweetdeck, or make a point of checking their Twitter stream, Facebook messages and so on at certain points during the day. Given that on most occasions you are bound to see a message containing information that is likely to prove useful, I think it's legitimate to regard these tools as an integral part of one's professional development. If so, the question is, how can you record that for the purpose of being able to complete the part of an application form which asks what training courses you've been on, or what professional development you've had, over the last X years.

Having given this a lot of thought over the years, I've come to the conclusion that recording professional development in the Web 2.0 sphere is not possible in the same way it is when recording ordinary training courses. If you were to note down every useful tweet or message, or even simply the dates on which you received useful tweets, you would give yourself a nervous breakdown and cause the person reading your application form to die of boredom.

It seems to me that the best way of recording, and proving, professional development in the Web 2.0 world is as follows:

  • If you go to a conference seminar, like the ones at the BETT Show,you can usually pick up a certificate of attendance. Do so.
  • If you 'attend' an online discussion, such as the Classroom 2.0 Live talk I spoke at ask the organisers for proof of your attendance (the Classroom Live folk do this automatically if you indicate that you'd like it).
  • Record your attendance at such events as the ones described so far.
  • Keep a weekly journal listing, in broad terms, the things you've learnt or come across that week. This can be in the form of a blog or eportfolio, as suggested by Andy Hutt and Ray Tolley respectively in response to the 5 Minute Tip already referred to, or as annotated social bookmarks (which may be able to be set up to appear on a blog automatically).
  • Ensure that somewhere in the application form you make it known that you're a member of such networks and therefore have a rich and varied informal learning experience.

Bottom line: I think it's important to bear in mind that what the application reader is looking for is not likely to be a list of every single professional development opportunity you've taken advantage of -- which could mitigate against you if you give the impression that you never have time to do any actual work. They're almost certainly looking for evidence that you're up-to-date with developments in your subject area, and that you know what's going on and what the issues are.

5 Minute Tip: Keeping a Professional Development Record

5 Minute TipWhat have you learnt today? Most people do not keep good records of their professional development, and many heads of department or curriculum leaders in education keep none for their staff. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to manage the departmental training needs effectively.

Virtually every application form these days asks for details of courses attended, or of relevant courses, attended within the last x years. Maintaining such a list on a computer is easy-peasy. If you're a team leader, like a head of department, you ought to encourage your staff to maintain their own records, and you should also keep a departmental record, for reasons given below.

First, consider the individual's records.

Individual Records: Table It

The method I'd recommend using is to create a table in a word processor, with the following column headings:

  • Course title

  • Course topic

  • Run by

  • Date(s)

You may prefer to use a spreadsheet rather than a word processor, since a spreadsheet will “see” dates as dates, whereas a word processor will “see” them as text.

By entering the details in a table, you can sort it according to course topic or date (or possibly both at the same time).

When entering the date, do so in this format: yyyy-mm-dd, eg 2007-06-12. There are two advantages of doing it like this:

  • It is easy to sort the data into chronological order.

  • There will be no confusion between UK and USA conventions, eg 12/06/2007 means 12th June to someone in the UK, and 6th December to someone in the USA.

If you use a spreadsheet like Excel, you can use the custom date format feature (Highlight the relevant cells, and then click on Format-Cells-Custom) to create this format. If you do, then if you enter the date as, say, 12 June 2010, it will automatically convert to the correct format. Incidentally, I've looked into the Google Docs spreadsheet, and when you enter a date in the way I've suggested it automatically converts it to the 'normal' format, which is rather frustrating.

Team or Departmental Record

Why is it important to maintain a record of training for your whole team ?

  • Without knowing your staff's skills, you cannot be fully confident in what you, as a team, can offer.

  • By maintaining a group record, you can identify gaps in the training needs of the team as a whole

  • It will enable you to support your individual team members' professional development, be it by recommending courses for them, or writing references for them.

In fact, one criteria of good practice (eg for the ICT Mark) is that there is a professional development 'map' for the whole school.

Write Once, Read Many

It is inefficient and unreasonable to expect people to keep two sets of records. Therefore, you might be tempted to create one central record to which people can contribute. (If you use a spreadsheet, you could have a different worksheet for each person.) However, the problem with this approach is that each person's record can be seen by everyone else, and even if everyone says they don't mind, a new member of staff may do.

The answer, I think, is to ask your colleagues to enter the information in the relevant area of the information management system, and have the data exported to a spreadsheet that can be accessed only by yourself, as long as any legal constraints are abided by (check with your personnel or legal department).

If there are any objections to your having access to individual people's records, then maintain a group record that does not have people's names. This will still help you identify gaps in overall training needs, which is its main purpose. In fact, if you're going to do that, you may as well use something like Google Docs because it just makes access and updating a whole lot easier.

Of course, the obvious disadvantage of that approach is that without knowing who the individual records belong to, it will eventually prove impossible to believe in their accuracy, because you won't know who has updated it and who hasn't. I think this is a clear case of where an overall school policy needs to be decided upon by the senior leadership team, and then adhered to by all staff.

Wait! What IS CPD?

Good question. These days, it's not just formal courses and conferences, but online conferences, blogs, websites, Twitter, Ning communities and all sorts of other informal learning opportunities, especially online. You cannot keep formal records of informal learning without changing the very nature of the professional development involved. What you need to do instead is to encourage members of your team to inform you when they have benefited from some form of informal professional development.

Perhaps even more importantly, they should be encouraged to keep their own records, at least in general terms, so that they do not 'lose' the information. I'll look at this in other 5 Minute Tip.



The European Pedagogical ICT Licence (EPICT) Course

Neil Howie describes this course and how it differs from the one it is often confused with, the European Computer Driving Licence, and discusses its potential usefulness for the ICT teacher.

I have started to undertake the European Pedagogical ICT licence (EPICT) course, and am finding it very useful in bringing back to the fore things that I should be using in my teaching yet, for one reason or another, don’t always.

There is a series of modules that are aimed at assisting teachers to develop their pedagogical approach to using ICT within the classroom. It is not about developing one’s skills with software or keeping up to date with the latest happenings in the hardware or software market. Too often, once we’re in the job we focus on what’s the newest piece of kit and how to stay abreast of what’s going on in the real world and bring this to the classroom. Whilst this is important, (for example, my article in this issue of Computers in Classrooms, ‘Learning new software – Adobe CS4’ demonstrates some of the techniques that I use for this), it’s the pedagogical use of these new innovations that we often don’t take time to consider.

This is why this course is both excellent and different. I’ve been told that it can be confused with the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), presumably because two words are the same and they both relate to ICT. They are however completely different. Having passed all the ECDL a few years ago in one day, it is a skills based course in the likes of word processing, spreadsheets and databases that I would see as now aimed at good KS3 students, weak KS4 students, or those adults who are just starting out with computers. The EPICT is aimed at educational professionals who wish to further develop (or if you are an ICT teacher, re-visit) their approach to using ICT in a classroom setting.

 

For those in the UK they can register through a provider with a list at the EPICT UK website . Being in international education I am using a newly formed organisation ‘your WITS’, run by an experienced and very qualified ICT teacher, Peter Napthine from his base in Brazil. YourWITS has set up fifteen EPICT modules using a moodle based system, from which registered users can access all the materials needed for the course, as well as forums for each module (and general forums).

What I think is great, and often is forgotten when using any online course, is the response time, and appropriateness of the response. Whilst it is great to be able to access materials over the internet whenever one wishes, the real value of such a course is when the tutor/facilitator (and other course members if appropriate) gives prompt and useful advice and/or positive criticism. This is certainly the case with yourWITS, and makes taking the courses feel that one is both learning/re-learning, as well enjoying the experience of it.

To highlight what is on offer here is a list of the modules available through yourWITS:

  • Locating and Incorporating On-line Resources
  • Electronic Communication & Collaboration
  • Creating and Using Interactive Resources
  • ICT and Special Needs; Effective Use of VLEs
  • E-Assessment; Presentation Technology, IWBs and Interactivity
  • Literacy and ICT; Numeracy and ICT; ICT and Creativity
  • Publishing on the Web; Digital Images
  • Spreadsheet Models
  • E-Safety
  • Games and Edutainment; and ICT and Strategic Innovation.

The first three, and last are compulsory for the Gold Award, with the remaining optional. In order to attain the Bronze award one has to complete 3 modules (including at least one compulsory module), the Silver award if after completing 6 modules (with at least 2 compulsory) and the full EPICT licence (Gold Award) is achieved after successfully completing 8 modules (4 compulsory and 4 optional).

As an ICT teacher I have started this course in order to both directly facilitate non-ICT teachers with their use of ICT, and act as support for them should they wish to further develop their ICT skills.. Whilst this is still the overall aim, I have been pleasantly surprised at how it has made me think about the pedagogical aspects of my lessons, which I may have taken my knowledge for granted for too long. If you have the opportunity then studying for the EPICT is I feel a worthwhile investment of one’s time and money.

Websites:

http://www.epict.co.uk – EPICT in the UK

http://www.yourwits.com – EPICT for the British International Schools market

Neil Howie is Deputy Principal at the British International School, Belgrade, Serbia. He has been teaching ICT for over ten years in the UK, Nigeria, Serbia and Austria. He is an Adobe Education Leader, Microsoft Master Instructor, and Member of the Institute of IT Training. His latest blog is at http://nhowie.co.uk; he can be contacted via greenmars (at) g (dot) ho (dot) st.

This article originally appeared in Computers in Classrooms, the free ezine.