Use IT in class? Train your teachers

New research suggests that for IT to improve student skills, teachers have to be given adequate support in the classroom.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

In order for students to maximize their learning in the classroom, teachers must be given adequate levels of training and support throughout IT integration processes. 

It sounds simple enough. You give a teacher a new tool, they use it, children under their care benefit. However, in classrooms not only in developing countries but across the West, schools will often equip the classroom -- but forget to train the user. 

As an ex-teacher, I can recall many times where colleagues would have trouble operating a VCR, but then would be thrust in front of a smart whiteboard and be expected to instinctively know how to operate it. Cool classroom tech may impress visiting makers of the small humans, but at the same time, we whittle away our time in 'training sessions' debating whether a horseshoe seating arrangement is best -- when we should be taught how to use new technology instead. 

It's not right to say teachers are clueless technophobes; far from it. But the point to be made is that while organizations, sponsoring companies or administrators are happy to throw money at modernizing classrooms, sometimes we need to go back to the basics. 

This opinion has been backed up by Ericsson in a new report that analyzes the impact of both technology and teacher training in the classroom. The report, which documents the study of classrooms in Africa over the course of a year, found that interventions in IT teacher training are key to making educators feel skilled and comfortable enough to use IT within their lessons.

Secondary schools in Kenya and Uganda were the host sites for the study. The project, funded by Ericsson and overseen by specialists at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Columbia University Teachers College, University of Nairobi in Kenya, and Kampala University in Uganda, found there is "significant potential" for improving education in the region through IT, but "the findings are only such when the tools are appropriately designed and adequately supported with infrastructure and ongoing professional development for teachers."

Investigators found that improvements came naturally in the schools as long as the IT found within them were designed and purchased with the school and its environment were kept in mind -- and teachers received ongoing, continual training and professional development workshops; not only in how to use the technology, but how best to integrate it within their lessons.

The research found that training turned 21 percent of self-reported "advanced" IT-using teachers into 45 percent by the end of the year, and this in turn resulted in an increased use of IT in the classroom, a rise of 18 percent.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General, said:

"Effectively integrating technology into teaching practices in resource-poor settings requires bringing many key elements together to enable IT to fulfil its great potential for improving student learning outcomes. Reliable connectivity, a consistent energy supply, and teacher training are among the key elements for getting started.

Designing new curricula that combine online and classroom learning is another high priority. Through broad-based investment and dynamic partnerships with the telecommunications leaders of the world, there is a huge and thrilling opportunity at hand."

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