What does it mean to be an ICT Literate teacher?
For students, being ICT capable is about not only knowing the ICT skills but also knowing that they know it and be able to decide if it is appropriate to use for a solution to a problem. The same concept can be applied helpfully to your own understanding of how to use ICT in your teaching profession. For you as a teacher, it is not just about acquiring ICT skills, but developing an understanding and judgement about how to use those skills appropriately. Let’s look at a classic example of this. One of the common uses of ICT in the classroom is with presentation software like MS PowerPoint. As a teacher, you decide whether such a presentation will be effective with the technology. Will it be an effective teaching technique for students in the class? You have to make decision as to why this would be better about other teaching techniques.
It is important to understand that the level of capability a student can gain is directly connected to that of the teacher’s knowledge and capability of using ICT in the subject. Research conducted on the most ICT capable schools (Kennewell et al., 2000) have concluded that where a teacher’s level of ICT capability was grounded in confidence and a high level of competence, students were given the freedom to explore and develop more ‘capabilities’. I will use this term more than I will use the term ‘skill’ because it is more important to be able to make the correct decisions about which technology to use and when and where to use it.
Despite this, there is still a presence of fear about technology use in the classroom amongst teachers. These include factors such as time, loss of control, cost, lack of PD opportunities and lack of ownership over the technology they are meant to integrate into their teaching practices. Yet if schools are to help students develop their ICT capability than it is through the work of teachers and other staff who support learning that it will be achieved.
There will always be a certain level of difficulty in the use ICT in the classroom especially since the rate of technological development and research continues to gain momentum. Working in the teaching profession will always be demanding in this respect and as teachers being lifelong learners will forever be a part of our persona. Be assured though that other industries are experiencing similar issues. To become ICT literate requires you to experience a level of difficulty. Students themselves must be able to experience a difficulty and learn to overcome the obstacles if they are to progress in their ICT capability. The same must be experienced by teachers. It takes a leap of faith for novices to overcome the difficulty of using ICT in the early stages before they begin to understand why they are using it. Regardless of this, an ICT capable teacher should be able to exploit new resources without technology-focused training having to be provided continually (Kennewell et al., 2000).
Technology literacy, ICT literacy or ICT capability of teachers – no matter how you define it – is vital in schools today. You need to be prepared to provide technology-supported learning for your students. Thus, what needs to embedded in your professional repertoire is the knowledge and preparedness to use ICT techniques in different contexts of the Learning Areas. In other words being able to use ICT across the curriculum to support the subject context whilst remaining transparent and still be teaching students ICT capability.
What can you do?
It is virtually impossible for you or for anyone to know all there is to know about ICT. We really are never going to achieve it as ICT continues to develop and emerge. My advice is to walk into your classroom as a learner alongside your students and never try to give the impression that you do know everything. By doing this, you will start to feel more comfortable in your use of ICT in the classroom.
Secondly, exploiting technology is all about understanding the potential of the available technology in your classroom. Don’t wait for the next big technological development to come along to be able to prove your ability to use it in the classroom. Exploiting technology is to do with the here and now of available technology.
My next advice stems directly from this point. It is far more beneficial for you to be intimate and know in depth particular software that your students use in the classroom than it is to be acquainted with a large number of software. Know the educational potential of what you have available by spending time getting to know it intimately so that you are able to exploit its features effectively. In addition, being familiar with a program will help you to identify the circumstances when students are ready to move onto another feature or be able to use it for a more demanding purpose. The best way of achieving this is by reflecting on the processes that aides the user to carry out and the techniques with particular effects can be achieved (Kennewell et al., 2000). You need to consider how you will introduce your students to the program and clearly define your objectives and ideas to students before they start.
Another factor that prevents teachers from using ICT in the classroom is the lack of technical support. As a teacher myself, I have experienced working in schools where there have been mostly either a part time technician or no technician. Never fear this anymore. What you need to know is the concepts and higher order skills behind the ICT techniques. ICT capability is a five component process that students need to demonstrate to progress. It is more just the teaching of techniques. So today, students don’t even need to sit at a computer to develop their capability. Know the concepts and when things go wrong, and believe me they will on occasion, you automatically have a backup plan. It also pays to plan ahead here and to get your tech support to help you in advance. Get them to check all the hardware and the software that you intend to use and if possible be standing at the door at the beginning of the lesson to catch any issues early. Yes, I know how short your time is too. Don’t worry. Ensure that you do know the concepts so that learning continues regardless.
Funding is a major problem for professional development opportunities for teachers too. There have been numerous times I myself have come across a fantastic opportunity only to be told that the budget has been spent on other things and that there is nothing left. This next bit may sound a bit bias but it is true. There are ways for teachers to learn online today without seeking approval from hierarchy. Take the matter into your own hands and seek online professional development that can pay for within your budget and claim it on tax. Problem solved. Ensure that the online courses that you enrol in meet the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and provide you with proof of completion so that you can include it in your CPD records.
What software can you start with?
Yes, there is a lot of educational software out there including subject-specific software. Despite this, there is only one type of software that you should encourage students to use if you aiming to develop their ICT capability. Content-free software is the software that should be encouraged the most as it gives students full control of the technology and the level of decision-making is high promoting the use of higher order skills. They need to be able have a clean slate in terms of what’s in front of them and assess and decide what ICT technique to use and for what reason and purpose.
The problem with subject-specific software is that the program maintains some form of control and direction over what students can and can’t do. Therefore, it will only partially develop their ICT capability. It is for this reason that you need to carefully plan and consider what you want the aim of ICT to be in your lesson – to teach ICT capability, to support subject learning or both?
What you need to know is that the software that I am talking about here is readily available in your classrooms and most of you have at home too. I am talking about generic software such as word processors, databases, drawing and painting, even specific coding programs these days. To take one example, word processors, is something that everyone is familiar is and is widely used throughout the curriculum. For you it means plenty of opportunities to teach ICT capability. Furthermore, as it is something that you know fairly well, it saves you both time and money as you don’t have to attend a PD to learn about it, how to use it, to evaluate and test it out in your classroom. The same goes for any other program that you and your students are familiar with. In a time where school budgets are not big enough for everyone you can demonstrate to your colleagues how to effectively exploit ICT in your classroom this way.
What I have just discussed with will help you to overcome the fear of using technology in the classroom. It will give you the start you need to confident and competent in the use of ICT. Being an ICT capable teacher is what is required of you today to teach students knowledge and understanding they need to participate in a technology-dominated knowledge society. Teachers who fail to learn new knowledge and understandings in this type of pedagogy will be left behind.