Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Embedding ICT Practice - The Forth Rail Bridge?

We currently have working with the foundation phase team a teacher who is on secondment with us until the end of the summer term. During his visits to schools he’s been quite surprised by the lack of basic ICT skills and confidence in some teachers and especially with LSAs across the foundation phase. Perhaps this has something to do with the lack of explicit ICT in the foundation phase documents or maybe it’s because Estyn rarely seem to refer to ICT in their inspection reports - I’ll leave those contentious points for another post, but maybe it's just that some schools have underestimated the part ICT can play in the foundation phase. He has very good ICT skills himself and is extremely confident in applying these skills in the foundation phase setting, demonstrating how to create videos, animation, recording audio, and the benefits in using various pieces of educational software and equipment. The schools he has worked with have really appreciated the training and advice he’s given and there’s lots of good work now being produced by these teachers and support staff after his sessions with them. However, as with all things in school improvement the only proof of how effective these sessions have been is to see what those schools are doing next year, and the year after. This was the crux of our recent discussion and of this blog; how does good ICT practice get embedded in a primary school?

My foundation phase colleague suggested that what was needed was to keep going regularly back to these schools, doing the same thing again, and again, and again. This sounds like the ‘painting the Forth Rail Bridge’ analogy, the job is never finished. After 10 years of working in school improvement that’s what it sometimes feels like. You do end up talking and doing the same things. I guess it’s the nature of what we do, talking to new teachers, new coordinators and new head teachers who may have new school priorities. New technologies regularly appear, but there always seems to be the need to go ‘back to the basics’ with some staff. 

One of the purposes of what we do is that a teacher or school should at some point take on the responsibility themselves to spread the good practice throughout the rest of the school and perhaps more importantly embed it into what they do? For example, we used to take Apple iBooks around schools to carry out Garageband or iMovie sessions with classes. We’d soon find that some schools wanted you back the next year and the year after. Those schools obviously valued these sessions, but our hope would be that they would then invest in these technologies themselves, use it regularly, develop the skills and confidence in the teachers to use this equipment in their lessons, and embed it as a tool in their practice. Many did, some didn’t.

The conversation soon turned to ICT resources. In most of our foundation phase classrooms you’ll see a variety of ICT technologies, Easi-speak microphones, Digiblue cameras, Tuff-cams, Bee-Bots, microscopes, talking points, etc. and like most things to do with ICT they are not an inexpensive resource.

He commented that schools have much of this type of equipment but that many of the staff had little idea how to use them effectively, and the equipment can sometimes be found gathering dust on a shelf or in a drawer. I think this may be a common problem with many ICT resources across the whole school, not just in foundation phase and also I believe a particular problem with ICT more than with any other subject resource. As well as specific training needs often associated with a new piece of equipment or software, there is the confidence issue in the teacher effectively using the technology in the classroom. Schools across this authority and many others across Wales devote a large part of their school budget on a huge variety of ICT technologies. As a head teacher I would want to know that after making a considerable investment in ICT, the technology was being used to its fullest and having a positive impact on learning and teaching in my school. If it wasn’t I’d like to know the reasons why and what we could do instead. I wonder how effectively this is being done, or if it’s being done at all in some schools?

Another comment by our colleague was that many of the staff didn’t know the range of software that was available to them on the school network. Talking to a group of NQTs recently it became quite apparent that the majority of them have never had induction given by their school on the ICT equipment, software and services that are available to them. But it’s not just NQTs who might have this issue, from my own observations there are plenty of examples of more experienced teachers being unaware or perhaps forgotten what’s available to them. Therefore a school spends thousands of pounds a year on a computer system that is not being utilised effectively by some of their staff. If I was a school leader I would again be questioning why this is so. But I do sometimes wonder whether the school leaders know that some of their staff are not fully aware of what’s available to them and how to use it effectively with their pupils? 

The above observations lead back to my original question, how does good ICT practice get embedded? For what it's worth, here are some of my simple thoughts on this issue. This isn’t rocket science, and I’m certainly not leading on new educational thinking. There has been much written by far more learned people than myself, about e-mature and ICT embedded schools, but it's still worth looking at for a 'refresh' :-) Engage your school in the NAACE ICT Self Review Framework as a strategy to help embed ICT across your school.

  • Conduct a complete ICT audit, look at what you already have in your school. What’s being used and what’s gathering dust on the shelf? Share together as a staff examples of things that are being well in the school and find out what the issues are surrounding the equipment that may be gathering dust on a shelf. This audit needs to be on a continual cycle as you purchase and evaluate new technologies.
  • Conduct an annual staff skills audit to find out the gaps in staff skills, and also to recognise where the strengths in your staff are. Exploit those strengths in training, support and mentoring of others. Through an annual audit you should be able to track how effective training and support provision has been that’s been delivered to staff over the previous year.
  • Refer to and evaluate the impact of ICT equipment, resources and software in teachers’ planning files.
  • Make reference to ICT equipment, digital resources and software in any schemes of work. In my experience if it’s referred to here there’s a greater chance a teacher will make use of it.
  • Don’t unnecessarily burden all your staff with a mountain of software, and a plethora of digital devices. I would personally much rather see a school where all the staff have a couple of pieces of software, tools and equipment which is firmly embedded in their practice, and that the school has a vision of where they would like to go next.
  • Encourage a culture of experimentation. Let the staff try things out; what works, what doesn’t work with my class. Evaluate it, share your experience with others, set up PLCs - we all learn something by failure as much as we do by success.
  • Have a couple of minutes at the start of every staff meeting to share together any examples of good ICT related practice that you’ve done or seen, or share a website that would be useful or a particular digital teaching resource you’ve seen. ‘Pockets of good practice’ in a school need to be shared with everyone.
  • Before buying ‘the new shiny thing’ think about why you are buying it. Have clear in your mind the purpose of this new bit of kit, or service. What need is it filling, problem it's going to address or what it offers that’s better than another resource (digital or otherwise) than the one we currently have? Think about the training implications for your staff. Are all your staff confident to use this new technology? Focus on the equipment and tools that effectively work for the learners and staff in your school, and when you do move to new technologies do it because you believe it will ultimately be of benefit to the learner.
  • The head teacher and senior management have to develop and believe in a whole school vision for ICT, remembering to include all staff, pupils, governors and parents in developing this. Can ICT be fully embedded in a school if the whole school is not on-board with ‘the vision’? In my humble opinion I don’t believe it can be.

I think that there maybe something in the Forth Rail Bridge analogy and embedding ICT. It is about constant evaluation and review of ICT technologies across the school, teacher skills and learners' needs. Maybe a school doesn't have to go right back to the beginning each time to paint the bridge, hopefully they've moved the whole school forward. But it is a good idea to remember to revisit past areas before rushing on with a new layer of paint before the ICT is firmly embedded.

A couple of links that may be useful:

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting read. I have a lot of work and learning to do. Thanks!
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