The teaching profession and the digital opportunity

2 Feb 2011

Teachers have as much to gain as their students from the onset of digital education. The opportunity to grow personally and professionally is at their fingertips.

As technology takes a more central role in ordinary life, there has never been a greater opportunity for teachers to shape their destinies and grow professionally. From planning lessons, sharing lessons with peers and establishing contact with other professionals, to setting inquiring young minds on the road of discovery in a connected world, the benefits of ICT are manifold.

At this stage, every teacher in the country should be equipped with a laptop and every classroom a digital projector. Organisations like the NCTE provide a range of courses geared to bring teachers up to speed with the latest technologies and ICT skills alongside online supports like Scoilnet.net and Webwise.ie.

Teachers employ own initiative

According to Martina Harford, chief executive of The Educational Company of Ireland (Edco), many teachers have also taken it upon themselves on their own bat to enrol in courses like the Masters in Education and ICT at DCU.

“I always look at ICT in terms of the classroom as a triangle – three important areas. The first is the infrastructure, which is being worked on at the minute and the second is the CPD and the third area is obviously digital content.

“I think the continuous professional development is going to be required at all levels in the teaching profession. There’s no point in having all the equipment in the classroom unless the teachers are trained in terms of how they can best use it. We are in business 100 years and we have 11 reps travelling in and out of classrooms every single day of the week and I think the goodwill of the teachers out there is huge.

“I think, however, we must point out the curriculum is very extensive and broad, and it’s important that when it comes to arranging CPD and designing courses around it that there’s collaboration with the teachers and not just imposed on them. It is important they get an opportunity to input how best they can be trained to impart the knowledge to the kids.

“The NCTE has done a great job with limited resources, getting the 50,000 teachers through the education centres. As well as in-service training we need to look at pre-service so that teacher training colleges and universities that are offering HDips for teachers are looking at this.”

The importance of CPD

Greg Tierney of Steljes said CPD is perhaps the most important aspect of any school’s ICT programme. “There’s no point in putting equipment into schools unless we are running courses on how to use that equipment and, more importantly, how to interpret that into the pedagogy of teaching.

“At the moment my only criticism is that ICT is kind of seen as a CPD option. It is something that a teacher can choose to do. Given the investment that has been made and the absolute importance of using a digital curriculum and embracing technology in education, ICT should be seen as important as looking at the curriculum for geography, maths or English. I think that’s crucial.”

Graham Byrne of Promethean agrees. “If we want to see any return on investment, it is all about training the teachers. We’ve got an open-minded audience who are ready and willing to take this training on. I’ve been blown away by the numbers of teachers who have taken interactive whiteboard classes in their own time and other classes around content. The enthusiasm and willingness is clearly there.

“I think there’s a blended solution to this in my mind in terms of instructor-led courses, much of which is provided by NCTE and by vendors. But there’s a fine layer of that, as well, where organisations like ourselves provide a huge degree of CPD in an e-learning environment for teachers online. There has been extraordinary uptake.”

CPD critical to rollout

Fiona O’Carroll is senior vice-president of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which employs more than 250 people in Dublin developing interactive learning solutions for global consumption. She said CPD should be seen as a critical part of the rollout.

“If we are putting the broadband in and the laptops, the projectors, etc, it is absolutely critical that the professional development is wrapped around that.

“If you were a business rolling out a piece of technology, everybody would be trained on how to use the new technology, it’s a basic requirement. If that step is missed it will really impact the leveraging of the technology in the class.

“I think on an ongoing basis we need to look at teacher training colleges. It needs to start being embedded in the curriculum for the teachers that are being trained to be our teachers of the future from the get-go. Then we get a virtuous cycle going for the use of technology in the classroom.”

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist. He joined Silicon Republic in 2002 to become the fulcrum of the company’s news service He was recipient of the Irish Internet Association’s NetVisionary Technology Journalist Award 2005 and Siliconrepublic.com has been awarded ‘Best Technology Site’ at the Irish Web Awards seven times. In 2011 he received the David Manley Award commending him for his dedication to covering entrepreneurs. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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