By Jan de Craemer, Assistant to the Director at Flemish Ministry of Education, Belgium
Last week, I made a 700 kilometers long Tour of Flanders to visit the Flemish schools who are participating in the Creative Classrooms Lab project. What I saw were very dedicated teachers and headmasters trying to make the most of their educational technology. Here are 10 observations I made from the school visits.
1) Support from headmaster is crucial. A clear vision supported by the headmaster is key in all the schools. Without their vision and support the achievements in the 5 schools would not be possible.
2) To have at least one member of the team who is co-ordinating the policy is equally crucial: I underline the importance for schools to have the human resources called Philip, Jan, Robert, Kris and Marc. Schools should be very grateful to have such excellent teachers or ICT-co-ordinators running around in the teachers’ room. The potential is huge and people like them should get all the chances and support. The risk is that they are or become lone wolves. What will happen if they leave school or retire? Will their work be sustainable and spread enough among the whole school team? This risk is clearly higher in some schools than in others but mainstreaming school policy & practice is concern in each of the schools.
3) What struck me is that all ICT-coordinators provide in-house in-service training and lots of support themselves. This system seems to be far more effective than large scale general ICT-courses. But this approach requires a lot of time and effort from the ICT-coordinator. Most of the schools had a system where the ICT-coordination is divided between a technical and a pedagogical co-ordinator. This has obvious advantages but also risks. In one of the schools the self-reliance of some teachers seemed rather low because the ICT-coordinator was constantly available to help them with small technical problems.
4) 1:1 use was deliberately not a choice of CCL-schools. CCL-schools go for a deliberate, dosed and step-by-step introduction of tablets. Tablets were integrated mostly in an experimental way. Rather than a giant technological shift towards mobile learning, tablets are entering classes in a gradual way or as a mobile class for experimental use (which is good to my opinion!). Teachers are testing them out, exploring different didactical uses.
5) Making learning gains is done by the didactical setting rather than by the technology. Learning gains are determined by the combination of didactics, quality of resources, pedagogical skills of the teacher, pupils learning style and curriculum. The use of tablets – like any other technology - must be based on a pedagogical vision and not the other way around.
So there is still much opportunity for innovation, change and new practice. The value added of a tablet precisely lies in its mobility and in the app-wise integration of multimedia. Tablets have the possibility to support collaborative ways of learning such as peer learning, group-work, project work, etc. (Note: as a precondition, these approaches require trust and believe in pupils). Some nice examples of such an approach we observed in Ieper. Tablets are also powerful tools for using multimedia apps for information and media literacy skills, creativity etc. These offer possibilities which go far beyond using worksheets and digital textbooks. We saw some nice examples of using the Morfo-app for language learning.
Disadvantage of tablets is that the added value ONLY lies in these 2 features. Some of the practices we observed were in fact extensions of very traditional methods. There is no real point in doing the same traditional things with a tablet. Furthermore a tablet is not handy for written assignments and distracting when having “traditional” lessons. One can ask for instance if a PC or laptop is not a better tool for making powerpoints than a tablet. The next stage after the experimental introduction will be to think carefully about pedagogical methods. Only such a critical review of own practice can make the difference between an engaging and interactive education (versus a controlling and more rigid way of teaching).
6) If teachers use technology for learning, they should assess with ICT at the end of their didactical process as well. I was positively surprised that tablets were used for evaluation and assessment, and in one case even for examination in all of the schools.
7) Teachers are struggling with the content-issue. A lot of time and effort is being put in the creation of own content, assignments, i-books, worksheets, etc. And also in finding and selecting apps. There is a clear role for publishers, not (only) to provide digital methods but to create smaller assets based on their methods. Teachers reported a need to exchange information and experiences about useful apps. It is a waste of time to have every teacher on his own looking for the same didactical apps. Repositories like www.appsakee.be are helpful but even those collection are large and teachers prefer apps that have been used and tested by their colleagues. Probably the best approach is to work with a limited number of good working apps.
8) Given this last observation I found it rather strange that most schools and teachers have not yet used the didactical scenario provided within the CCL. The pedagogical scenario (“Content Creation”) is something teachers are not familiar with but could be very helpful to structure and review their tablet-practice. A lot of teachers view a scenario as something that comes on top of all the rest instead of as a guideline or as a tool that can help them shaping their lessons with technology. That was particularly interesting since most of them were in fact creating content or having their pupils creating content. We will have to promote better the value of working with didactical scenarios and discuss further the reasons for not using them.
9) Visiting the CCL schools we also had a view of what will probably be the next big thing: Bring Your Own Device. Lucerna College supports BYOD already. Although the other schools are not ready yet for a full support of BYOD, it is clearly something they think about.
10) Conclusion: CCL-schools can be proud of themselves, should keep up the good work but must remain critical about their practice in order to take it to a next step on the ladder of opportunities. They now need to pass tablet use beyond the experimental stage. Didactical issues must be carefully evaluated. The good news is that another round of scenario building is coming up. These scenarios can and should provide help and support to streamline tablet-use across all CCL-schools.