ICT in the News –“A lot done but plenty more to do”

clip_image001All schools received good news from the DES in November with the release of over 43 million Euro into the system for investment in ICT infrastructure.  This investment is to be welcomed and is badly needed as evidenced by the NCTE 2005 census (Shiel and O’Flaherty) and subsequent calls for investment in the Department’s “Investing Effectively in ICT in Schools”.  However, investment in ICT in infrastructure is not enough as has been highlighted in three recent education reports, none of which focuses exclusively on ICT.  This is a welcome new departure and is undoubtedly a sign of things to come.

The 3 Reports

The three reports I refer to are:

Designing Primary Schools of the Future

This recent ESRI report looks at design issues in creating primary schools in the future and has a lot to say about ICT in Schools. Though the report is principally focused on design issues in future primary schools it devotes a significant amount of space to ICT and this is to be welcomed.  In particular they make some very interesting observations in relation to the potential of ICT to bring about change as evidenced below.

Mortimore (1998) makes some interesting observations about the use of ICT in schools and its impact upon teachers’ skills. The author notes that ‘…the pace and nature of development in information technology … makes change more, rather than less, likely’ and this emphasises ‘…the need for teachers of the highest calibre’ (ibid., p. 11). Rudd et al. (2004) note that overall ICT is one of the most popular topics for discussion in the futures literature. (p.14)

They also note that many teachers feel that their levels of ICT skills are not adequate for today’s classroom.  This is a very good report and provide a very nice review of the literature in the area of ICT, which includes a brief historical perspective on the integration of ICT into Irish schools, for those interested in the historical perspective.

The 2009 National Assessments of Mathematics and English Reading

This excellent report produced by (Eivers et al. 2010) is the tenth in a series of national assessment reports that date back to 1972.  The report provides national baseline data for Mathematics and English Reading against which future performance can be compared. It will:

  • establish current reading and mathematics standards of Second and Sixth class pupils;
  • provide high quality and reliable data for the (then) Department of Education and Science2 to assist
  • in policy review and formulation and in decisions regarding resource allocation;
  • examine school, teacher, home background, and pupil characteristics, and teaching methods which may be related to reading and mathematics achievement;
  • provide a basis against which to compare outcomes of future assessments of English reading andmathematics at Second and Sixth classes. (p. 1)

Once again the main focus of this report is on Maths and Reading assessment data but it also makes a number of significant references to ICT and they even go so far as to make recommendations in this area, which I will outline briefly below.

Better Literacy and Numeracy for Children and Young People

The final report that was released last week outlines a draft plan for improving literacy and numeracy in Irish society.  It is timely that in 2010 we begin to plan how we ensure all of society, but particularly our young people, are equipped with the key literacy and numeracy skills they will require today and into the future.  Though this report does not deal with ICT issues it does provide a new definition or notion of literacy, which is included below.

Literacy conventionally refers to reading, writing, speaking, viewing, and listening effectively in a range
of contexts. In the 21st century, the definition of literacy has expanded to refer to a flexible, sustainable
mastery of a set of capabilities in the use and production of traditional texts and new communications
technologies using spoken language, print and multimedia. In this plan, literacy refers to the
development of these capabilities in the first language of the school (L1).

Numeracy is the capacity, confidence and disposition to use mathematics to meet the demands of
learning, school, home, work, community and civic life. This perspective on numeracy emphasises the
key role of applications and utility in learning the discipline of mathematics, and illustrates the way that
mathematics contributes to the study of other disciplines. (p. 9)

This definition is to be welcomed as the 2009 NESF Report, Child Literacy and Social Inclusion: Implementation Issues, questioned if the DES had a literacy definition that met the needs of the 21st century.  I think this is a good inclusive definition that for the first time mentions “new communications technologies” which provides scope to consider a range of new media and their associated literacy activities.

What are some of the messages?

Looking at all three reports through an ICT lens I see some common threads.

  • ICT is now being looked at in a more holistic way – as a major issue to consider in building schools of the future, as a tool to assist teachers monitor assessment data in reading and Maths, as a key element of literacy and numeracy CPD and as a tool to ‘write’ and ‘read’ digital texts.
  • Many teachers lack confidence to use ICT in their professional lives and this is a concern that we need to address.   The 2009 National Assessments of Mathematics and English Reading makes specific recommendations on this issue:

Recommendations:
8. ICT is an area in which many teachers feel they need additional skills. Therefore, in the context
of our earlier recommendations for CPD, teachers should have greater access to courses and
packages that support innovative and constructivist methods of teaching and learning in English
and maths.

9. In line with the curriculum and with international best practice, calculators should be an integral
part of the teaching and learning of mathematics in all classrooms from Fourth class onwards.  (p. 92)

The authors found that 22% of Second Class teachers and 33% of Sixth Class teachers identified ICT CPD as one of their top three priorities for CPD in English while 41% of Second Class and 61% of Sixth Class teachers identified ICT as a top priority for Maths CPD.  These figures should raise concerns on a number of levels.  First, why are the percentages of teachers seeking ICT CPD so much higher in Maths?  I wonder would the numbers be higher for English if we applied the recent DES definition on literacy because I suspect many teachers don’t connect ICT with literacy.  However, that is for another day but if you are interested in this idea check out Jim Gee’s video.  What every way you look at it there is work to be done to provide quality CPD to primary teachers in these areas and the current approach is not meeting their needs.

  • The Better Literacy and Numeracy for Children and Young People Report clearly articulates the need for quality ongoing professional development for teachers in the areas of Literacy and Numeracy.  The report articulates the clear need to develop the teaching profession as a learning profession where teachers have access to quality on going CPD.  This is to be welcomed and the Teaching Council, in particular, will play a key role in these developments.

Conclusion

So what should “quality ICT embedded CPD” look like and do we have examples to draw on?  I would argue that the model of teacher professional development developed as part of the Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative, which was subsequently evaluated by FGS and Dr. Conor Galvin, is one such model.  This model, which was developed with the assistance of Dr. Deirdre Butler in St. Patrick’s College, took a holistic or programmatic approach to improving literacy and numeracy in 16 local schools.  We embedded ICT into our CPD workshops but the focus was firmly on improving literacy and numeracy and in equipping teachers with the strategies and tools to implement change in their own classrooms.  More recently we conducted a small scale research project in a number of primary schools within The Digital Hub and the evaluation,  Digital Literacy in Primary Schools or the DLIPS Report, was led by Dr. Leo Casey, Professor Chip Bruce and Dr. Gerry Shiel. This report found that the teachers were using digital technology to support an enquiry based teaching and learning model in their classrooms to teach literacy skills.  The CPD model behind this project immersed teachers as learners within a professional development programme that included a number of elements:

  • teachers attended in-service workshops
  • the focus was on literacy activities linked clearly to the curriculum
  • they received in-school mentoring (this was facilitated by Mr. Clifford Brown)
  • they used simple digital tools, namely digital stills cameras

Teachers could see the benefit of integrating ICT and they were supported to implement it in their classrooms.  The software was appropriate for the task and it had a relatively easy learning curve, while the CPD and in-class mentoring provided teachers and pupils with the support they required to embed their new learning into their literacy activities.

Ireland has made significant progress in “locating ICT” in schools over the past 13 years but it is clear, from the findings contained in several reports, that we need to rethink our strategy in relation to integrating ICT more across the curriculum.  The structures and support models that have served us so well in the last decade should now also be reviewed in light of these reports and we need to consider establishing a more integrated approach going forward.  ICT can no longer be seen as “add-on” or a “nice to do”, it needs to be integrated into the heart of a modern 21st century education system, as is evidenced in the reports referenced above, but how do we implement the recommendations of these reports to improve our overall system?

We would welcome your thoughts on how we can better support schools to achieve a more integrated approach to ICT across the entire system. Now is the time to act.

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