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Is Teacher Training the Solution to Better ICT Usage in Education?

Ron Canuel


I have often been asked for insights into what would ensure the highest degree of quality integration of technology into the classroom. There are a number of compulsory components that must be effectively addressed if we are to truly observe the full benefits to learners and educators. The one area however that seems to consistently perform weakly is in the area of teacher professional development.

Why are most professional development (PD) approaches for teachers so poor?

Why are teachers so reluctant to invest in PD activities? What can be done to ensure that the professional development is meaningful, builds pedagogical capacity and truly creates the desired outcomes in the classroom?

These questions apply to any context in education and are not only limited to ICT. So here are my answers to these three questions. You may or may not agree, but since I try to support my answers on evidence and research, I can say with confidence that I have lived, read about, researched and observed for over 35 years in public education, the “Good” and the “Bad” teacher professional development events/approaches.

  1. Why are most professional development approaches for teachers so poor?

Well, it starts with an Economy of Scale approach to professional development/learning, that is, trying to do the most with the least (highest impact with lowest investment). This might sound like good economic and fiscal thinking but it doesn’t work with learning and the mind. I affectionately called these professional development events the “Dog and Pony Show”, where groups of educators are invited to a session, sit in a hall or classroom, watch the presenter and ingest/digest the message.

If the presenter is entertaining and insightful, the workshop gets great feedback evaluations. If the presenter is dull and boring, the workshop gets poor feedback evaluations. However, it must be noted that in both cases, the odds that the new information is integrated into classroom practice is very, very remote. This format of teacher professional development is void of really addressing the major challenge that awaits the teacher upon the return to the classroom, that is, TIME TO IMPLEMENT. Sadly, it happens to be the most used PD format, regardless of where you are.

I have also observed an OLPC initiative that is hopeful that the introduction of the laptops will simply create some form of professional epiphany in the teacher’s behaviour and practice. We must realize that the vast majority of teachers base their instructional approach on replication and mirroring, not evidence or research-based practices. In my opinion, ministeries-state departments/faculties of education/school districts still do not inculcate into aspiring teachers the need for the extensive use of research and Best Practices approaches into regular classroom practice. As a result, simply showing teachers “how to” and not addressing “Time” and “Understanding”, will not work, plain and simple.

  1. Why are teachers so reluctant to invest in such approaches?

Too often in the past, teachers have been left to their own “devices” when it comes to learning new practices. If it didn’t work in the past, why would they believe that anything has changed? Teachers don’t have time to waste attending PD sessions that don’t address the issues that they have, are and will live in the classroom.

  1. What can be done to ensure that the professional development is meaningful, builds internal pedagogical capacity and truly creates the desired outcomes in the classroom?

At my former School Board, the Eastern Townships School Board, we began our 1:1 initiative in 2003, with the provision of over 210 PD days for 450 educators. It included a sharp focus on two domains: Use of technology and Integration of technology into the classroom.

In the first two years, we focused on the provision of professional development with small groups and in-class settings. This was more labour intensive, took longer amounts of time and ultimately greatly facilitated the entire process of integration. It worked!!

The subsequent years arrived and we then slipped back to old bad habits of larger scale professional development, in large-sized meeting rooms and crossed our fingers for good luck. Again, this was replicating very familiar PD models in use today. Why did we slip back? Old habits die hard!

My strong recommendations for effective Professional Development for Educators using ICT:

  • Start with the end in mind: “Assessment Drives Instruction.”
    Design your assessment forms (aka reporting to parents and stakeholders: Report Card) before you commence your pedagogical professional development. This is the mantra that you should always remind yourself about, since teachers understand that the measurement of their success is based on how successful the students perform. If teachers clearly know what the assessment is to be, they have a much clearer idea of how to use the technology in the classroom. This will explain why so much is written about the poor usage of ICT in education. It actually has little to do with the technology and everything to do with the lack of clarity of the final assessments or the oversimplified “skills” contexts. This means that you must also involve the teachers in the design of the professional development and evaluation rubrics!
  • You must include quality time in your teacher professional development sessions for meaningful exchange, for classroom trials and discussions.
    Your professional development should find a way to provide in-class time for teachers to use the new knowledge, to observe colleagues trying out the new methods. Build into your PD budget substitution costs for the teachers receiving this support. Stay out of the conference rooms and meeting halls and spend more PD time in classrooms.
  • You should involve the students in the design of the professional development sessions.
    Since they are the recipients of these professional efforts, and are usually more at ease with the use of technology, hearing their input may provide better avenues for usage by teachers. (A cautionary notes: 1-Students know how to use technology but not necessarily for learning; 2-Younger teachers who use technology are not more apt to use the technology in the classroom since they are still trying to understand and develop their own pedagogical practices.) Visit What Did You Do In School Today? to discover how powerful the voices of students can be in the design of their own learning.
  • Local Mid-adaptor educators can provide better and more meaningful professional development sessions than outside “experts” or “consultants”.
    I emphasize the local mid-adaptors since they are the ones who were not initially convinced that ICT was a suggested path to pedagogical improvement and are known/respected by their fellow teaching colleagues. Early adaptors don’t convince as well as mid-adaptors. When a teacher hears somebody whom he/she considers credible and supportive, the professional development sessions will much more meaningful.

In parts of the world that cannot afford such orientations, remember one thing: Traditional approaches have not worked and won’t work. As our motto at the Canadian Education Association states “Great minds don’t think alike.” Hope this helps and I look forward to hearing from you.

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3 Responses to “Is Teacher Training the Solution to Better ICT Usage in Education?”

  1. Ron –

    Great point about needing quality time for teacher PD!

    I am the IT Coordinator at an international school in Indonesia and one of my responsibilities is IT training. My view is that an IT trainer needs to take the attitude that their job is to get participants into the training room and away from their desks and to give them time to play around with new technology. The trainer provides an appropriate 'starting point' and then uses their expertise to guide individuals as they choose their own learning path.

    To get my ideas organized I have set up a blog (Technoids for Teachers – http://www.technoidsforteachers.com – and I am finding that we definitely need to think about adapting professional development to be more appropriate to learning in the 21st century.

    Rod Murphy

  2. After reading the latest post on the OLPC project in Canada, it made me wonder more broadly — Have you ever come across reviews or feedback from teachers that suggested they were mostly satisfied with the PD / training they received prior to an ICT intervention?

    A graduate professor of mine once said that teachers will *always* claim that the training was insufficient or misdirected. I am not sure how true that is, but it does lead me to wonder: how do you (or someone in a position similar to yours at CEA) draw the line between ineffective PD / training and ineffective implementation by the teachers? Have you ever felt that the PD / training programs were unfairly used as a scapegoat for other problems with program implementation? How do you encourage teachers to continue their development and conviviality throughout the year? As they share their experiences and observations with each other, have you found that some platforms and formats for documenting best practices are better than others?


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