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Make IT Count: Effective Professional Development for Teachers in ICT

10 Apr, 2017

 Accredited Online Professional Development for Teachers

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In the 21st century, the rapid pace of the production of information has meant that those who wish to thrive and survive in their profession need to do what they can to keep up-to-date with the latest developments and research. The many changes are occurring in society place a lot of pressure on many industries including the education industry. This is because schools have always been charged with the role of preparing students for a life in society. Today, as schools continue to struggle to keep up with the demands of society, the catalyst for many changes that are occurring and the driving force for the mass production of information, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), has firmly made its mark in the education of students. For teachers of today and tomorrow, taking part in professional ICT development opportunities that will help them utilise ICT in their classrooms is vital. Professional ICT development for teachers will help teachers to continue to be the catalyst for change in schools and transform their teaching practices in such a way that will prepare students for an ICT-integrated society. Professional ICT development, therefore, needs to be effective and the people who provide it need also to be well-skilled in the integration of ICT in school curriculums. At the end of this paper, such issues will be discussed in addition to the role of professional development today and the key elements and factors in conducting active professional ICT development for teachers.

Professional Development

The advancement of a person’s skills or expertise through continued education, in order to be successful in their profession, is increasingly becoming more common today (Aussie Educator, 2015). We live in a fast-changing world where a decade ago, no-one would have heard or known about any of the professions that exist at present. That is why professional development is so important. In every profession, regardless of what you do, keeping up-to-date is vital to your future success.

 professional development plan

Figure 1. Teacher workshops help give teachers the tools they need to develop student capabilities.

At the root of the changes occurring within society is the continued mass production of information. This has now become the reason the society in which we live in is known as the ‘knowledge society’. Professional development is more than just upskilling and improving our understanding. Personal development is a key element in professional development for any profession in the knowledge economy. As Hargreaves (2003) states, today professional development must possess elements that nurture character, maturity and virtues within a people. This human growth coexists with the increase in professional integrity, and this is something that all employers can seek to promote in their employees.

 

What this means for teachers in the education system is that they can transform their school into a moral community through continuing professional development. A teacher who is professionally and personally developed will have an evolved strong sense of themselves as teachers and as people (Hargreaves, 2003). Teacher professional development is, therefore, an integral component of teacher development. However, for professional development to work best for teachers, it must work to create higher capabilities and understanding through ensuring that it meets the needs and works with the strengths of the teachers involved (Aussie Educator, 2015).

 

In addition, we must not forget that schools are always at the forefront of any changes occurring within society. Teachers need to have access to the information they need in order to continue to be the key to changes in schools.  The professional development of teachers is, therefore, the key to the success of a person’s development but also a nation’s economic prosperity and growth.

Professional ICT development

Rationale

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is now one of the building blocks of society (Anderson & Weert, 2002). Permeating all aspects of society including education, ICT has the potential to transform the nature of education, specifically where and how the education of students will take place. However, if the benefits of ICT are to be reaped in education then pre-service and in-service teachers need to have the skills and competencies (Resta, et al., 2002). The powerful tools that ICT provides are catalysts for change in that they transform the teacher-centred and text-bound classrooms into technology-rich learning environments that are predominantly student-centred. Schools need to embrace the new and emerging technologies and appropriately use them as tools for learning (Resta, et al., 2002).

 

The Australian government has now recognised ICT, its basic skills and concepts as a core part of education by making it a curricula requirement to integrate ICT into teaching and learning. To add to this, the increasing rate of technological advancements and developments will continually make it essential and extremely challenging for teachers to keep up-to-date (Reading & Doyle, 2013).

 

With ICTs being rolled out to schools across the country - $900 million worth (Queensland Government Department of Education, Training and the Arts, 2015) - and the continued emphasis on integrating ICT into teaching and learning, it is important to understand the role of continual professional ICT development. Education authorities have internationally recognised that having the technology without the continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers is simply an inefficient use of the resource. It is imperative, therefore, that schools invest in teacher training as new technology emerges, and the pedagogies change (Bennett et al., 2007; Triggs & Sutherland, 2009).

 

The significance of professional ICT development for teachers is equally essential to the well-being of the student. By attending professional ICT development courses, teachers are able to pass on these benefits to their students. The use of ICT in the classroom can lead to increased levels of motivation, engagement and attainment with students. In addition, the use of ICT can provide students with increased access to online education. As a result of the use ICT, schools themselves can become more competitive as they continue to move forward into 21st century education (Davis & Carlsen, 2005).

 

The lack of such opportunities is one of the reasons why teachers fail to incorporate technology. One of the factors present that inhibit these changes occurring is the fear of teachers inappropriately using technology in their lessons that in turn can have a negative impact on student learning (Sutherland & Sutch, 2009).

effective online professional development for teachers 2

Figure 2. Effective PD in ICT achieves school goals.

Teachers can use the professional ICT development to help them change their pedagogies and to build their technological skills in order to keep their training relevant and future focused. In a fast-changing society, the term ‘lifelong learners’ will become synonymous with teachers as they will continue to be urged to undergo continuous professional development (Davis N. , 2001). As a result, teachers as modern professionals will continue to work in a learning environment as learning professionals.

 

Finally, it is important to emphasise the connection between ICT and society. The increasing presence of ICT in society inevitably means that we live in a knowledge society. Here, information is mass produced, and workers of any profession are urged to attend professional development courses. The rapid change of ICT and its presence in schools means that teachers will need to stay on top of their training. Senior staff need to become aware of such courses so tha they can inform others of the benefits it may bring to them and their school.  In an ICT-integrated society, “teachers are key and effective professional development is the crucial element” (Triggs & Sutherland, 2009, p. 6). Learning can only be enhanced with ICT when teachers “analyse and understand the potentialities of different ICT tools as they relate to the practices and purposes of their subject teaching, and when these tools  are deployed  appropriately for their students” (Triggs & Sutherland, 2009, p. 6).

 

Challenges and Issues

Teacher attitudes remains to be the main problem in the integration of ICT in teaching and learning (Daly, Pachler, & Pelletier, 2010). Solomon Ortiz, the former US Representative for Texas’s congressional district, once said, “Education is the key to success in life, and teachers make a lasting impact in the lives of their students”. The only way that teacher attitudes can change is through professional ICT development where they will receive the education they need in order to engage, motivate and encourage students in their use of ICT. For teachers to truly understand the benefits of ICT and change their habits in their thinking, they need to be at the centre of their learning (Daly, Pachler, & Pelletier, 2010). It is imperative that teachers can deepen and consolidate their understanding of the use of technology to enhance learning.  

 

The key to the success of this, however, is having the adequate time to consolidate and understand what has been learnt. Realistic time management impedes the process of professional ICT development (Dawes, 2001; Daly et al., 2010). Head teachers struggle to find the time for teachers to consolidate their learning. In addition, many teachers do a lot of their planning at home, and if they have access to a computer, this process can be streamlined. However, it does place further demands on a teacher’s time (Dawes, 2001). Despite this, studies have shown that teachers who desired to integrate ICT into their classrooms have found the time to do so (Dawes, 2001).

 

Adequate training is also another issue that needs to be addressed in the professional development of ICT for teachers. Whilst it is important that there are ICT capable teachers in schools with the right technological know-how, it has become evident these skills are not sufficient to help teachers develop their pedagogy (Daly, Pachler, & Pelletier, 2010; Dawes, 2001). The focus in professional ICT development  for teachers should be on how to use the technology in teaching and learning (pedagogy) as there is little impact on the quality of learning activities in classrooms when skills training is perceived to be the primary focus. Daly et al. (2010) states that this can be misleading especially when a lot of skills training has taken place in CPD.

 

The Key Elements of Professional ICT development  

Professional ICT development for teachers must be transformative if they are to change the perspectives of teachers in terms of their use of ICT in their teaching. According to Prestridge (2012), there are three essential elements to professional ICT development that is required  to change teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and practices. These are summarised as below.

 

Construction of investigation

Investigation was found to be a critical factor as it allowed teachers to focus new approaches to teaching “rather than a reconstitution of established practices using different technological application” (Prestridge S. , 2012, p. 6). The self-realisation enabled a greater transformative capacity for teachers as it allowed them to examine pedagogies and divert their previous views away from the notion of only just developing their ICT skills.

 

Another factor that was considered important was enabling teachers to examine classrooms as the centre for investigation by teachers in professional ICT development. It was found that by doing so, there was a change “from teachers consuming knowledge provided externally to reflecting  upon and transforming  one’s own beliefs and action” (Prestridge S. , 2012, p. 6). This way, the result was that professional development in ICT has an intrinsic connection to the classroom as opposed to external professional activities.

 

Tieing these factors together was a third element to emerge from the data in relation to investigating. Practicalities were provided which aligned itself closely to the previous two items and established a foundation for classroom-based investigations. Teachers, like students need to be encouraged and motivated for things to happen and Prestridge (2012) points out that this can only occur if teachers consider investigation as part of what they do in the classroom every day and not view investigating as an additional exercises. It is important as well to understand that this approach must be designed to cater for the specific needs of teachers and be closely connected to student learning outcomes.

 

Construction of reflection

Reflection in professional ICT development can provide a supportive role for teachers if they are in the form of written and verbal thoughts. It was also found in Prestridge’s study that it too can transform teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and practices. Prestridge (2012) uses the transformative model of professional ICT development  depicted in her studies to further demonstrate the connections between reflections and the other components of professional ICT development  that combined transform the pedagogical beliefs of teachers (see Figure 1).  The reflection was found to be the most constructive when teachers engaged in professional opportunities online that provided collegial contexts.

 

Construction of constructive dialogue

Close links were found in this element of reflection as it too involved collegial dialogue as can be seen in Figure 1. Constructive dialogue, according to Prestridge (2012), lies within the context of investigation as teachers discuss what is happening inside and outside their classroom. As in the first element considered, investigation, there were also found to be a number of themes involved.

 

The first issue explored was the “transformative potential of learning communities in face-to-face and virtual communities” (Prestridge S. , 2012, p. 8). As the findings suggested, however, face-to-face professional ICT development would only be most beneficial in an environment of sharing and collaboration. Despite this, Prestridge’s study indicated that within the virtual communities teachers shared critique, and this was considered to be a transformative quality in terms of teachers’ pedagogical thinking and reseasoning. Prestridge (2012) suggested that these findings were indicative of collegiality and critique but within a process of constructive dialogue.

 

Connections between collegial dialogue and leadership were the second theme. It identified three different roles of leadership. The first role was that of a trainer where it found that some teachers considered developing ICT competencies as an important factor in professional ICT development. Prestridge (2012) suggest that this might not have such a great transformative quality as the other factors involved. What does give this role importance is the “gaining of competence and confidence as a precursor to the appropriation of ICT” (Prestridge S. , 2012, p. 8). The second role was that of a critical friend and this, however, had a far substantial impact on the ability to transform teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and practices. The key factor that enabled this to occur was the ability to challenge teachers’ beliefs and “validated the notion of an educational community which valued both friendship and learning (Prestridge S. , 2012, p. 8). Finally, the third role of leadership examined was that of a connector. It showed evidence of in-school and across school connections benefiting the participating teachers as a result of the collegial dialogue.

 

Prestridge (2012) also mentioned a third theme that was of communities within online forums. Further studies in this area were conducted to highlight the role of discussion in online forums (Prestridge S. , 2010). The studies indicated that was known to be symptomatic features of online forums limited teachers’ constructive dialogue while social activity enabled and benefited collegiality (Prestridge S. , 2012).

 

In conclusion, Prestridge (2012) comments that “constructive dialogue has emerged with greater  transformative capacity than collegial dialogue within ICT professional development as it identifies  the need for teachers to engage in critical discourse that challenges and shapes their pedagogical beliefs and practices” (p.8).

 

Making IT Happen: The building blocks of Effective PD in ICT

The increasing rate of technology being introduced into schools means that teachers need to be fully prepared to utilise these technologies in a way that will set an example not only to their students but their colleagues as well. As stated earlier in this paper, technology in schools without continual professional ICT development is wasteful of the resource. This does also place a lot more emphasis on those who provide professional development courses for teachers to ensure that what they are doing will be effective in training teachers in ICT pedagogies. According to Phelps and Graham (2013), “effective ICT professional development can only be understood and achieved through a respectful recognition of the differences that exists within and between school cultures” (p. 24). What constitutes as effective professional ICT development  has been in the past “highly contested” (Prestridge S. , 2010), however, other studies have found commonalities of what teachers perceive to be active in the professional ICT development  (Lloyd, Cochrane, & Beames, 2005; Schrum, Strudler, & Thompson, 2011; Ham, et al., 2002).  For example, the research found by Schrum, Strudler, & Thompson (2011) reported that policies of successful ICT integration in various countries such as New Zealand all addressed the individual needs of the teacher, created a culture of support for ICT integration, peer-to-peer interaction and risk-taking. These findings were consistent with the research conducted by Daly, Pachler, and Pelletier (2010) in a study on continuing professional ICT development for teachers. Collaboration and reflection were also key factors that led to successful CPD in other studies.

 

Overview of a Successful Policy

Another important factor to the success of professional ICT development for teachers is the funding provided by national governments. In the 1999 programme initiated by the New Zealand government where funding were given to 23 schools that were selected to develop their three year ICT professional development plan, there was a substantial impact on the use of ICT by both teachers and students (Ham, et al., 2002). The agenda focused on the following areas:

 

  • Assessing the ingredients for successful cluster models of ICT teacher professional development;
  • The effects of the professional development on classroom teaching and student learning;
  • Wider school effects of the professional development such as planning and administration.

 

The 23 schools that participated in this programme were evaluated in terms of their most effective operational characteristics, the effectiveness of the “ICTPD cluster programmes in terms of promoting administrative efficiency, policy development and strategic planning for ICT in participating schools”, the effectiveness of the “ICTPD cluster programmes in increasing teachers' skills and knowledge related to the educational applications of ICTs, and in increasing classroom usage of ICTs”, and the “educational worth or value to students of the ICT-based learning activities implemented by participating teachers in their classrooms” (Ham, et al., 2002, p. 4).

 

While the findings of the study were extensive, it concluded that there were positive outcomes that resulted from the programme. It found that “the programmes contributed indirectly to the development of strategic planning and policy initiatives on ICT in participating schools, and directly to substantial increases in the professional skills and confidence of participating teachers, to substantially increased teacher use of ICTs for administration and lesson preparation, and to substantially increased usage of ICTs by students in those teachers’ classrooms” (Ham, et al., 2002, p. 132). The overall views of the participating teaching indicated that they were happy with their achievements.

 

Developing effective professional ICT development for teachers

Quality professional ICT development for teachers is vital if teachers are to pass on the benefits of what they have learnt to students. In order for there to be a successful professional ICT development, various factors need to be present. These factors include the following: the duration; collective participation of groups of teachers from schools, etc.; active learning opportunities; content focus and; coherence. Such factors were found in a study of effective U.S federally funded programmes (Schrum, Strudler, & Thompson, 2011, p. 5).

 

    • The duration of the activity (both time per session and number of sessions). 
    • The collective participation of groups of teachers from the same school, department, or grade was found to be more effective than individual participation.
    • Active learning opportunities were associated with effective professional development. The content focus was deemed more effective than generic teaching strategies not tied to particular content areas.
    • Coherence is the degree to which the activity is tied to school goals, policies, standards, etc. The greater the coherence for teachers, the more effective the professional development.

 

In addition, elements were identified in a study (Lloyd, Cochrane, & Beames, 2005) that examined the characteristics of active professional ICT development. Conducted by the Queensland Society of IT in Education, the elements were categorised into four areas: Context, Time, Community and Personal Growth. All aspects were acknowledged by Education Queensland (Queensland Government Department of Education, Training and the Arts, 2015)

 

Context (practice of teaching and learning)

Active professional ICT development must have a context that is relevant, meaningful, and practical and has direct applicability to practice. It must also address the needs of individual teachers as a priority (Daly, Pachler, & Pelletier, 2010; Lloyd, Cochrane, & Beames, 2005; Queensland Government Department of Education, Training and the Arts, 2015). The context must also take into account teachers’ prior knowledge.

 

Time

It is noticeable that the findings of this study were similar to that elsewhere (Schrum, Strudler, & Thompson, 2011). Time and the duration of time is a considerable factor in active professional ICT development. Two key elements emerged that were the length of the professional ICT development and the sustainability of the event. The event also needs to be a time that is adequate for participation, reflection and implementation. It should allow teachers to take responsibility for their learning (Queensland Government Department of Education, Training and the Arts, 2015). Time for reflection is of particular importance as it provides teachers with the opportunity to relate what they have learnt back onto their teaching practices (Daly, Pachler, & Pelletier, 2010).

 

Community

Research has shown (Daly, Pachler, & Pelletier, 2010), that continual professional ICT development that is designed to be collaborative is useful. Collaboration allows teachers to share with each other, provide support to their colleagues and expands professional and personal networks (Queensland Government Department of Education, Training and the Arts, 2015).

 

Personal Growth

Personal growth should form a central part of any professional development and is noticeably mentioned as an important factor in the success of professional ICT development. “Professional development is a personal path toward greater professional integrity and human growth” (Hargreaves, 2003, p. 62).  So it is no wonder that participants in the study conducted by Lloyd et al. (2005) saw personal growth be important. In addition, for it to be effective professional ICT development needs to be challenging so that it adds to personal knowledge, increases personal skills and enhances one’s status in the learning community (Queensland Government Department of Education, Training and the Arts, 2015).

 

Professional ICT development for Teacher Educators

A crucial factor to the success of professional ICT development for teachers and the integration of ICTs into teaching and learning is the education of those who provide the training and skills (Allen, et al., 2002). For teacher educators professional ICT development must be ongoing and considered carefully if they are to provide teachers with an effective programme. Below is a summary of the basic strategy as outlined by UNESCO (Allen, et al., 2002).

 

Basic Strategy

This strategy has been found to be successful in ICT integration by countries who have already initiated such strategies.

 

      1. The focus in professional ICT development needs to be on teaching and learning rather than on hardware and software. Consideration of what student teachers are expected to know and do in a specific discipline is important. In addition, they would need to know how to integrate ICT successfully into the learning process so that they will become more proficient in their skills and knowledge of ICT integration.
      2. ‘Practice what you Preach’: This strategy has been named as such because it implies that those teacher educators who provide professional ICT development for teachers must at first apply their own knowledge and skills. The strategy emphasises the point that in a profession where intrinsic knowledge and skills of a specific strategy is significant that teacher educators must first prove that they have extensively practiced what they hope to pass onto others. This way it can be assured that teachers will be receiving the help they need through an organisation that has specialised in their needs. Allen et al. (2002) suggests that a ‘just-in-time’ approach be used for teacher educators to practice specific technology tool or application to enhance their learning.
      3. Continual professional ICT development must be a requirement for teacher educators. New technological developments means that they must not ever be seen as a static educator – someone who is not up-to-date with the latest research and developments. This is particularly of importance as what they know is taught to teachers and if this does not take place then the teachers themselves and inevitably the students being taught will be out of touch with the demands of an ICT-integrated society.
      4. Professional ICT development is also best sometimes if it is provided to small group of teaching staff. It may be to staff who either volunteered or have demonstrated that they have basic ICT competencies for personal use. They might even have expressed interest in using ICTs in their teaching. This process helps to establish the specific interests and needs and determines what may work best. If it works well then it provides the framework for other small groups.
      5. 5.    The final and most important strategy, however, is to ensure that the professional ICT development is designed to meet the learning needs and skill levels of teaching staff within a faculty.

 

Stages of Professional ICT Development for teacher educators

There four stages of professional ICT development for teacher educators when they themselves are training. According to Allen et al. (2002), each stage may be repeated with new forms of ICTs or applications of ICTs to new areas.

      1. Awareness: Teacher educators must provide information to individuals about a relevant application of ICTs and appropriate ways it may be used in the individuals current professional or personal concerns.
      2. Explore: In this area, teacher educators explore the use of applications. As with teachers, teacher educators need the time and support to put the application into practice and reflect on its effectiveness.
      3. Adapt: It is only after teacher educators have gone through the previous two stages that they can “adapt their practice to make better use of ICTs” (Allen, et al., 2002, p. 87).
      4. Innovate and Model: Over time and practice teacher educators will become innovators and modellers of ICT integration for their students and colleagues.

 

Conclusion

Today the message is becoming clear to educators that an ICT-integrated society needs workers who have the skills and knowledge to use ICT effectively and efficiently in their lives – otherwise known as knowledge workers. These demands of society have placed great pressure on those who prepare students for such a life. This has also brought on pressure to those who help train our teachers in the professional ICT development opportunities which they provide. Ensuring that effective professional ICT development takes place is vital if teachers are to become innovators and modellers of good practice. Whilst there are several aspects that help create effective professional ICT development, there is really only one element that needs to always be addressed – that is, to ensure that the individual teacher’s needs are being met in terms of their subject discipline. However, without good policy and support from senior management, teachers will always feel reluctant to begin the process of integrating ICT into their teaching.

 

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