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by James Lawrie, Education Adviser at War Child
Can Information Communication Technology (ICT) provide opportunities to improve teacher professional development in low-income and fragile locations?
Effective professional development requires a combination of approaches, and as discussed in the week-1 blog, the ubiquitous workshop alone will never cut it: no child is likely to enjoy a better quality of learning if all their teacher has done is attend a load of external training!
Based on principles of effective practice (Timperley, 2008) this blog explores how ICT could support more personalised classroom-based professional development. Through good R&D we may find that wise use of these ICT applications could help address the current crisis in Teacher Professional Development.
Please note: this is not an ICT-has-all-the-answers discussion. ICT is a complement, not a sole solution. What it cannot do is replace professional human-to-human contact, the importance of maintaining momentum, nor the essential leadership required for embedding a continuous improvement culture.
1. Effective professional development enables teachers to learn from ‘Worthwhile content’, and context-specific Open Education Resources and Interactive Audio material can enhance the teacher-learning opportunity.
We all like our own professional-development to include high-quality materials, and the situation for teachers in fragile locations is no different. Teacher Education In Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) has produced a range of context-specific materials in four languages having worked with more than 700 educators across the continent to develop their selection. Their 2012 evaluation provided an impressive headline on their ability to shift practice:
It [TESSA] has fused theory and practice; shifted perceptions from teacher as a “know it all” to “teacher as facilitator of learning”; and greatly enhanced the relevance of pupils’ learning experiences. (Harley & Simiyu Barasa, 2012)
Interactive Radio Instruction, while often designed for direct student learning, has an increasingly valuable evidence base as a tool which supports teacher improvement. (Evans and Pier, 2008; Burns, 2011). There are examples of this from South Sudan and Somalia amongst other locations. Similarly, English in Action provides teachers with interactive audio material, operating on mobile phones or MP3 players, for their own English language skill development and which is suitable for teacher self- and group-study in Bangladesh.
2. Effective professional development offers ‘Multiple opportunities to learn and apply knowledge’, and off-line audio, video, text-based teaching material combined with classroom-based coaching can enhance the teaching-learning opportunity.
Several projects are piloting ways of combining access to educational material with in-classroom support. Connect.Teaching provides teachers in South Sudan with an off-line database of 500+ video, audio, and text resources through a tablet computer, which includes materials such as the Healing Classrooms videos. Similarly, OER4Schools offers an approach blending Open Educational Resources (OERs), with ICT and in school support. In both these examples, the project design enables teachers to learn from a variety of sources, and through coaching and peer reflection they can test, reflect and adapt their teaching for their own classroom.
3. Effective professional development enables teachers to ‘process new learning with others’, and video classroom observations can enhance the teacher-learning opportunity.
Video enabled mobile phones or even flip cameras are cheap and increasingly effective in noisy, echo-ridden classrooms. The University of Amsterdam and Edukans’ project Learning in Process details a model developed in Ethiopia and Uganda which utilizes video reflection for teacher improvement. (Hoeksma & Sieswerda, 2010) Lesson episodes are filmed and analysed by the teacher alongside peers, facilitators or coaches. Play back on the screen offers immediate post-lesson reflection, while a small amount of editing on a laptop enables more in-depth analysis. A considerable benefit of video is that teachers can observe and review good practice, which is especially valuable in low-income and fragile contexts where models of great teaching and learning can be in short supply.
4. Effective professional development includes ‘assessment for professional inquiry’, and computerized student-testing systems can enhance the teacher-learning opportunity.
Teacher commitment to improvement is more likely to be sustained when they see the results of their professional development - not just on themselves, but on the learning outcomes of the children they teach. (Guskey, 2002) Eegra and Tangarine both offer teachers hard data (and immediate results) on their students’ literacy learning and therefore the means to truly understand the impact of their own professional development. This approach, combined with classroom observation data would be a valuable complement to any professional development, and it also, of course, provides students with incredibly valuable formative feedback.
The above four points demonstrate that ICT has the potential to genuinely support teacher professional learning because it can bring models of good practice, quality resources, and encourage dialogue between knowledgeable peers. However, technology needs to be nested within a framework for effective professional development as ICT remains the complement and not the solution alone! We will learn how effective these applications are in the coming years as the research-base on this relatively new field develops.
The links within this blog are far from exhaustive. Additional references to ICT for TPD are most welcome.
James Lawrie is the Education Adviser at War Child, an INGO based in the Netherlands and operating in twelve conflict-affected countries. In his current role James is the policy lead and technical adviser for War Child’s basic education and TVET projects, and has a particular focus on ICT and innovation. He is also a member of the INEE Working Group on Minimum Standards. James is a former high-school teacher (5-years) and has also spent 2-years as an adviser to the Ministry of Education-Cambodia on school leadership and Teacher Professional Development. He has led an investigation into the potential for hand-held video cameras in initial teacher training, and conducted a nation-wide situational analysis of the impact of the Dzud weather system on schools, teachers and children in Mongolia. James holds a Masters degree in Educational Leadership and Management.
Click to read more about the Teacher Professional Development in Crisis series.