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3 August 2017

Help Teachers use ICT effectively

Noortje Janssen (UT researcher) – How can we ensure that ICT is used effectively in the Classroom? In this column, Noortje Janssen, who defended her doctoral thesis in June 2017, advocates for appropriate support for teachers.

'Education is lagging in the digital realm’, ‘Education must make use of the advantages of ICT’, …. Statements such as these have become familiar nowadays and still appear regularly in the media. They are often based on reports about ICT in education (for example, the OESO report, the recent report of the Education Council and the recently published “Vier in balans” monitor from Kennisnet). In these reports, it emerges that, among other things, ICT is still infrequently used in education and that, when this is done, it does not automatically lead to better learning results. By why, in fact, is ICT so rarely used? And how can we ensure that ICT can be utilised effectively in the classroom?

In the early years of ICT, the argument was often made that schools lacked the facilities to use ICT. The hardware or software didn’t function or was simply not present. However, a great deal has happened over the past decade to improve ICT facilities.

FACILITIES IN ORDER

Many schools in the Netherlands now have a smartboard, several laptops or PCs, and fun extra gadgets such as video or photo cameras. Moreover, educational applications are increasingly available online, such as the drawing application Stoodle or the brainstorming tool Padlet. And, although the Internet does not yet work optimally at all schools, most schools now have a working Wi-Fi connection available for the students (Kennisnet, 2015).

It appears therefore that the ICT facilities are perfectly in order at enough schools. Nevertheless, many teachers are unable to use ICT effectively during their lessons (OESO, 2015). It can then simply be stated: ‘Just let them do their best and everything will be fine’. After all, it’s easy to point the blame at teachers. But can we actually expect teachers to be able to immediately make effective use of ICT, which is relatively new in the context of education? I don’t think so. How can we adequately support teachers in filling this important role effectively?

LESSON PREPARATION

In my doctoral research (e.g. Janssen, 2017; Janssen & Lazonder, 2015, 2016), I immersed myself in supporting teachers in the use of ICT during lesson preparation. As part of this process, I focussed on developing information sources, based on the theory that teachers must be knowledgeable about technology (i.e. ICT), subject matter, didactics and their integration in the lesson (TPACK; see for example Mishra & Koehler, 2006) to be able to employ ICT effectively. This is why it is important that these information sources contain adequate information about ICT and the appropriate subject matter and didactics. By also making the link between these three elements explicit, by integrating the three sources, a great deal of work can be taken off of the hands of teachers.

One example is offering support in which information about photosynthesis (the subject matter), design-focussed learning (didactics) and various tools, such as a mind mapper and an assessment tool (ICT) are merged effectively. After all, in this way, teachers are not forced to devise everything from square one and they receive assistance in thinking more about how ICT can influence the didactics and subject matter in the lesson.

IXPERIUM

Based on my literature study into support for ICT integration, it appeared that this is one of the many examples of useful support for teachers. Based on research, points of departure can therefore already be found to promote the use of ICT by teachers. Is it true then, as the reports suggest, that things are still lagging behind in practice? Perhaps. Various initiatives have now been started to further assist teachers. I saw this particularly in the teacher training programmes that I visited during my doctoral research. At the HAN University of Applied Sciences, for example, there is the ‘Ixperium’, a place where teachers and students in primary education can experiment with the use of ICT. At the Fontys University of Applied Sciences, attention is paid to ICT in the classroom in the minor programme ‘Children, learning and media’, as well as at the postgraduate teacher training programmes in Enschede, Nijmegen and Amsterdam, there is the opportunity to pursue ICT as an intensification theme.

What is still lacking, however, is a structural approach in which teachers receive support, time and space in practice to learn to use ICT in education. There are individual initiatives by teachers who themselves research how, for example, specific computer programs can enrich the learning about the subject matter. But, the majority of teachers still make limited use of ICT applications (Kennisnet, 2017), or do so ineffectively (Voogt and colleagues, 2015). They don’t have the time to immerse themselves in the confusing array of applications available on the Internet, about which it is unclear how they can be of added value for a specific lesson. It’s precisely this group of teachers that could benefit from having reliable background information about ICT and how this can be integrated with the right subject matter and didactics.

The responsibility for facilitating this type of support lies not only with schools, but there is also a role to be played by the government and the method designers. First of all, teachers need a working Internet connection and time to utilise ICT effectively. This, in combination with a platform with good-quality information about computer programs combined with suitable professional and didactic information, can serve as a starting point for increasing effective use of ICT in education. An organization such as Kennisnet can also offer expertise in this area to effectively combine ICT with the subject matter and didactics, and they can function as an intermediary between the various parties.

Therefore, let’s not just write reports about the problems that exist when it comes to the use of ICT, but above all let’s look for solutions. If the government truly wants to invest in ICT in education, then it’s a good idea to invest in initiatives that offer teachers the room and support to embed ICT in the teaching practice. The Education Council is already taking a step in the right direction with its opinion on the implementation of ICT: ‘The field of education must implement this itself, but needs greater support initially than is available.’ We’ll see how it goes!