Support key to brave new world of tech in classrooms
Despite the Department of Education and Skills outlining a purchasing framework for schools investing in information and communications technology (ICT), many in the education sector claim successfully integrating technology into the classroom is done on an “ad hoc” basis throughout the Republic, often relying on “one person to take the lead” in individual schools.
Adrienne Webb, who is on the national executive of the Computers in Education Society of Ireland, says that often an individual can be left to act as ICT manager, tech support and teacher “all in one”.
“There are a lot of schools up and down the country where a teacher who happens to express an interest” in ICT are handed over complete responsibility for it, she says.
Webb, who is quick to add that she’s “blessed to have a principal who invests in maintenance” of technology in St Michael’s Holy Faith Secondary School in Finglas, was reacting to recent UK research which claims that hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of technology is under-utilised in schools and of little use to a pupil’s education.
The research, carried out by Nesta – an independent charity which promotes innovation – stated that while technology can “offer opportunities to transform learning and teaching”, there was “no strong evidence of this transformation taking place”.
Here in the Republic, Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), says he has heard of several school inspectors who have been “very disappointed” with the use of available technology such as interactive whiteboards in the classroom.
“They have the technology there but often it isn’t used as much as it could be, either through reluctance of the teachers to use it in case it won’t work when the inspectors are in, or they’re not comfortable with the technology,” says Byrne.
There is perhaps a feeling from some teachers that technology can end up “replacing them”, admits Simon Lewis, principal of Educate Together National School in Carlow town and founder of primary education innovation website Anseo.net. Lewis, who uses computer games, programming languages and tablet PCs among various other IT-focused education tools each day in his school, isn’t alone in thinking that way.
Cristina Luminea, who created maths-based educational iPad app Numerosity, talked to several Irish teachers while researching her product, and says: “At the moment, teachers are used to teaching in a certain way and I believe a lot of them are actually afraid that they will be replaced by technology and that might be the reason for being resistant to it.”
Both Webb and Byrne were keen to stress though that there is a “huge amount” of teachers using technology in the classroom in innovative ways and to the benefit of students.
DCU multimedia lecturer Dr Miriam Judge, who has conducted a great deal of research in the area of ICT in education, says teachers can’t be blamed for having some trepidation about involving PCs, tablets or other devices during their classes.
She says that if something goes wrong with one or more of those devices during a 40-minute class, it leaves teachers spending “half their time” trying to figure out a technical issue.