It’s probably best to be up front right from the start and admit to being a bit of a “lurker” on several online ICT forums! I spend some time observing threads and reading through discussions without noticeably participating to any great degree. It’s not that I have never posted a comment; I have posted on several occasions but nothing on a regular basis warranting the removal of my “lurker” tag! The same holds true for my experience with Twitter. In recent times I’ve been fascinated by the flow of comments and posts that have been generated by topics such as iPad’s and the use or otherwise of apps in the classroom as well as such topics as MOOC’s (Massive Online Open Courses), Codo Dojo and Google Docs.
Although I haven’t any hard and fast figures or statistics to present, my gut feeling is that only a tiny percentage of Irish teachers, Primary and Post Primary, involve themselves with these online forums and discussion groups. I believe that there is a small cohort of ICT champions racing ahead, using new ICT’s in their classrooms, blogging, Tweeting and Apping on a regular basis while the vast majority of teachers are still trying to come to terms with Interactive White Boards, laptop and projector combinations, Blogs and Twitter.
During November of 2012 I had the opportunity to work with several schools as part of their “Croke Park” afterschool hour, presenting a variety of ideas and suggestions to help further integrate ICT into the daily teaching and learning environment. One Principal simply asked me to highlight “What other schools are doing…” The thing that surprised me the most after these presentations was the fact that many front line teachers have are far removed from the the flow of ICT information and opinions in the above mentioned discussion threads. There is an information deficit, an awareness gap, in my belief mostly due to poor national awareness combined with pressure of work and rather than any particular lack of interest in ICT in teaching and learning.
I was delighted to read a recent post on TeachNet from Michael Hallissy on “Shared Professional Practice” as I have had personal and professional links with the Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative in the past. In fact one of the ideas I present to teachers comes from this initiative; Microsoft Mouse Mischief is a great resource; however it never ceases to amaze me that most teachers have never heard of this resource or Partners in Learning. Michael outlined the value of Partners in Learning and I wholeheartedly agree with him! Teachers networking together and sharing professional expertise and ideas is a powerful catalyst for change and can also act as a critical support mechanism.
However the existence of the Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative and as well as other important ICT developments isn’t reaching the front line where the classroom teacher is engaging with pupils and the curriculum on a daily basis. Recently I watched a re-run of a film starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and Ray Liotta, “Field of Dreams”; Costner’s character hears a voice telling him to build a baseball pitch in his back garden (well, a very large cornfield!) and they will come; “Build it and they will come!”
ICT initiatives have been “built” however teachers are not coming in sufficient numbers to create the momentum needed to mainstream the resources, concepts, supports and developments that are already in existence. Something needs to be done to bridge this awareness gap! I believe that the closure of the network of ICT Advisors based in Education Centres around the country was a huge error of judgement as these advisors provided a necessary and crucial footfall in schools throughout Ireland. From my own professional experience in working with teachers and presenting ICT initiatives and courses I believe that nothing can beat the support that can be given by an Advisor or ICT Co-ordinator during a visit to a school staff.
If important initiatives such as Microsoft’s Partners in Learning are to succeed in Ireland then a nationwide awareness campaign needs to be developed so that teachers can weave the wonderful richness of these ICT resources and supports into their daily teaching and learning.