Embracing new ways of learning

20 Sep 2010

Continuing professional development (CPD) in Irish schools will need to adopt a broad range of approaches to accommodate diverse needs, including online and face-to-face learning. There is no one way to use ICT so CPD of our teachers must reflect this.

Bernie Ruane, president of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), says the biggest problem for the organisation is the lack of rollout of broadband across the country.

“This has led to a huge digital divide where some schools have great ease of access to broadband and others have none,” she says.

“That is one area that we would like to see investment in – we would like all schools to have the same facilities and, more importantly, the same ease of access to the internet.”

Ruane says that about 40pc of schools in Ireland do not yet have high-speed broadband, adding that this investment problem needs to be addressed very swiftly by the Government. She says that despite the uneven internet access in schools around Ireland, teachers do use and aspire to use more ICT (information and communications technologies) as an integral tool for learning.

Ruane says teachers in secondary schools around Ireland are very interested in promoting e-learning.

And even though some teachers grew up in a pre-technology era and others grew up using a PC in the home, she says that this is not reflected in the uptake of ICT. She is not aware of a single teacher who does not know their way around a computer.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has established its own professional development unit called INTO Learning. The union maintains a strong collaborative partnership with the National Centre for Technology in Education on ICT-focused professional development for teachers.

This collaborative partnership includes the design and delivery of both face-to-face and online professional development courses. These include “ICT Across the Curriculum” and “Beyond 2020: Using Technology in the Primary Classroom”.

“These courses recognise the need to mainstream ICT into all areas of the primary curriculum,” explains Sheila Nunan, INTO general secretary.

“Thousands of teachers have taken part in these courses and the feedback has been very positive. This clearly shows that primary teachers see the importance of ICT in the classroom so much so that they are willing to participate in training courses in their own time.”

Since 2005, INTO Learning has been providing online courses for primary teachers.

“This use of technology as a means of delivery of continuing professional development for teachers has been positive. It breaks down the traditional time and place barriers to participation,” she says.

The NCTE’s ICT–based professional development for teachers

The National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) provides a range of courses and workshops/support sessions specially designed for Irish teachers. There are no course fees – NCTE fully funds their provision.

Courses are as follows:

Primary and Post-Primary

•      Starting your School’s  e-Learning Plan (2.5 hours) NEW!

•      Scoilnet & Online Encyclopaedias (2.5 hours) NEW!

•      Web 2.0 for Learning (Blogs, Podcasts and Wikis)

•      Creating your School’s Website or Blog using Scoilnet Blogs

•      Computer maintenance and useful applications for creating teaching resources

Primary Specific

•      ICT & Language in the Primary Classroom (NCTE/MLPSI) NEW!

•      Supporting & Developing ICT as a Teaching &

Learning Resource (NCTE/INTO)

Post-Primary Specific

•      ICT & Maths (NCTE/Project Maths)

•      TFC agus an Ghaeilge (NCTE/Gaeilge)

•      Scoilnet Maps

•      ICT courses to support the T4 curriculum (NCTE/T4)

Short Courses for Beginners

•      Introduction to PCs and File Management

•      Introduction to the Internet and Email

•      Introduction to Digital Media

•      Creating Presentations and Worksheets using ICT

Other Options:

Whole School Training: NCTE also funds courses tailored to the specific requirements of a school, which can be held either in your own school or your local education centre. Ask your education centre for an application form.

ICT Support Groups: NCTE funds the venue and a trained facilitator to provide less formal training and support to groups of 10 or more teachers who want to upskill in a particular area or just take time-out to explore ICT resources. Talk to your local education centre about your ICT training and support needs.

Online Courses: NCTE also offers some courses online. For more information, see the NCTE website.

Find out about all of the courses online.

Partners in learning

One multinational that has successfully trained many Irish teachers is Microsoft with the Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative. Dr Kevin Marshall is the academic programme manager for Partners in Learning with Microsoft Ireland.

Partners in Learning was established in 2003 with three main aims: to create greater access to technology for students; to provide professional development resources for teachers; and to provide a framework within which Microsoft can engage with governments around the world on relevant ICT issues.

“The global aims are slightly different in each particular country depending on what priority is chosen or what agenda the schools wish to engage the government with,” explains Marshall. “In 2003/2004 my emphasis was on how we would create greater access and how we would provide teacher resources for professional development.

“Now my focus is on the whole issue of national competitiveness and the education system fuelled into the smart economy as a whole while looking at an emerging revolution in technology, which is cloud computing,” he says.

Cloud computing, says Marshall, will be an integral part of the education process going forward and will impact greatly on how teachers are equipped to educate and how students are equipped to learn.

ICT and technologies like cloud computing are no longer simply an important part of the education process but actually a fundamental part, he says.

“The curriculum, whether it is Irish, maths, French or geography is underpinned and enabled by some aspect of technology and this technology is integrated into the whole curriculum.

“If you look back over the last 10 years, arguably we have done a really good job of upskilling teachers in a vast array of technologies. I think where we need to have greater focus is on that integration,” explains Marshall.

Project Maths

Another important part of technology in education is that it can aid the revolution in how children learn and acquire knowledge and skills. An example of this change is Project Maths – a way of learning through relevant examples and discovery.

Dr David Delany, research fellow with the Centre for Academic Performance and Student Learning at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), explains that certain kinds of science-based learning and thinking techniques can accelerate the development of elite performance.

“From that perspective, I’d suggest that future professional development courses for teachers should be constructed around evidence-based methodologies.

Cognitive psychologists have been studying superior performance for over 60 years and have clearly identified the key factor that determines our level of performance within a field-quality of training,” explains Delany.

He says that if you look at the concepts in Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book Outliers you can see how ‘knowledge engineering’ and concept maps can lead both students and teachers to problem-solve like experts – something that has been shown to be more important than IQ in determining levels of excellence.

“It moves us away from a superficial focus on surface understanding towards a conceptual ‘deep structure’ and insight-oriented perspective. The advanced thinking skills course I run for academics in TCD is a first step in this direction, and has already been used to drive innovations in law, engineering and neuroscience,” he adds.

The future of professional development, it seems, not only lies in upgrading our technology but also in literally rethinking the way we approach learning as a whole.