I have 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 I 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 Continual Professional Development (CPD) over InSETIn 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... Where the PD is more about certification than transformation.
So this approach to CPD 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:
'Team Time'Teachers were asked to use a ‘timetable audit’ to reflect carefully upon a typical week at their grade level. What emerged was that at least twice a week, during the school day in each grade, all the teachers were ‘free’ at the same time. This was dubbed, ‘Team Time’, a time when the DLC would be available specifically to that team to facilitate collaborative and individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) teacher-generated opportunities to learn from and with each other (Pickering, 2007). These shorter, smaller and more frequent meetings are the kinds where collaborative work is more effective than larger, infrequent meetings (Cordingley et al, 2005; Devereux, 2009). Most weeks these are informal affairs, that provide a forum for collaboration; teachers are able to discuss technical and curriculum questions, classroom management issues and assessment practices, as well as how to use available technology, and share tips and short cuts they have learned with/from their students (Ciampa & Gallagher, 2013). One teacher’s efficacy (often a 'Tech Mentor'—a teacher designated as having a particular role in the development of ICT within the grade level or department—but not always) with a particular tool can quickly became ‘viral’ with two or three other teachers eager to learn from a colleague’s expertise, very much imitating the way they observe their own students learn from each other.
‘Trickle Down Training’Teachers benefit far more from informal, home based activities (Hustler et al, 2003), so when they (somewhat guiltily) request assistance with personal uses of ICT, they are often pleasantly surprised to learn that it is precisely this ‘self-centred’ use of ICT that can provide a synergistic, symbiotic ‘cascade effect’ on the development their own ICT skills, such as for creating a ‘home movie’, or cropping an image for use with a social network profile. This kind of CPD, based on personal interests, takes account of how adults learn, and recognises the importance of individuals taking ownership over their own personalised learning journeys.
'Techsperts’Many students are quick to learn many of the skills and potentialities of digital tools, what Mishra & Koehler (2006) call technological knowledge (TK), yet are not necessarily skilled at, for example, sharing them. The involvement of students through skilled facilitation (Ruddock, 2004) creates a collaborative ethos that harnesses the time spent in the classroom as time for ‘training’ by taking advantage of the students’ natural facility with digital technologies, while also harnessing the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of their teachers—their unique perspectives based on many years of experience. This is a repurposing of Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK model (2006) I describe as TK + PCK = TPCK.
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.
JITTJITT or ‘just in time teaching/training’, is an organic, serendipitous or spontaneous intervention that occurs on a ‘need to know’ basis, when needed or “just in time”. These are, "spontaneous and short tutorial sessions—both student to student and instructor to student—driven by immediate requirements (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p 1036)." Teachers acquire ‘problem-solving’ technical skills to overcome first order barriers (Ertmer, 1999) as ‘short, sharp, specific’ interventions at the point of need, within instructional practices that incorporate meaningful uses of technology (ibid). In this way collaborative learning can be achieved which is “shorter, smaller and more frequent”, the kind of ‘needs-based training’ advised by Karagiorgi & Charalambous (2006, p 406), tailored to each teacher’s needs. This is a form of ‘training’ targeted directly at the point of need—assuming the teacher makes a point of noting how the recovery was improvised—so it can become a learning opportunity in and of itself, and not just reinforcing their dependence on what could easily become just another form of technical support.
The final report [pdf] is available here: http://goo.gl/lM1Tq
ReferencesCampbell A and Groundwater-Smith S (Eds) (2007). An Ethical Approach to Practitioner Research: Dealing with Issues and Dilemmas in Action Research, London: Routledge
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Ciampa K and Gallagher T L (2013). Professional learning to support elementary teachers’ use of the iPod Touch in the classroom, Professional Development in Education, DOI:10.1080/19415257.2012.749802
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