What is the principal’s role when using CBT to build teachers’ technical skills?

Saturday, November 27th, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers, technology | Comments Off

Computer based training (CBT) is a cost effective way for schools to train teachers in the use of different technologies.  When the education department does not provide the type of training teachers require, or when training courses are either unavailable, or unattainable owing to their high cost, CBT may be just what you need.

In CBT the computer acts as a tutor and tutorials are provided on disk or can be downloaded from the internet.

Some teachers will receive the tutorials, work through them, and bob’s your uncle.  But never assume that this will be the case with all teachers.  Not all of them have the disposition that will make CBT an automatic success – they need additional support.

If CBT is chosen as a method to provide teachers with technology skills, the role of the principal in creating the right conditions is crucial.  These conditions include the following:

Equipment: Some teachers may not have a computer, or their computers don’t have the capacity to access CBT material.  They can only benefit from the program if they are given access to computing equipment.

Time: Learning by means of CBT is self-paced and may be time consuming, particularly for those teachers not familiar with technology.  Arrangements must be in place to allow teachers sufficient time to access the material and then to practise their new skills.

Technical support: When you are unfamiliar with technology one of the greatest turn-offs is technology that is not working.  This may be owing to a fault in the technology itself, or finger trouble of the person trying to learn – both problems are quickly resolved when a technical support person is available.

Development plan: With so many materials available, CBT may deteriorate into a hit-or-miss affair – courses could be taken just because they are available, without recognition of the skills needed.  A personalized development plan for each teacher is the answer.

Monitoring: Since CBT is a self-study method, it is easy to let it fall by the wayside.  A monitoring system must be in place to ensure steady progress and to give a gentle nudge when advancement grinds to a halt.

A teacher with a computer loaded with CBT material does not necessarily lead to the building of technology skills.  Principals play an important role in creating an environment in which technology can be used to increase technology skills of teachers.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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Does the cascade model work for technology training for teachers?

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 | Employment, technology | 1 Comment

A cascade is a waterfall or a series of waterfalls.  When we think of a cascade we have a vision of big quantities of water rushing down a river.  In education this image has become a metaphor for a particular training model: one teacher from a school (or a district) is trained; the newly trained one trains a few more; each one of them trains a few more, until all have received the training.

The cascade training model is an attempt to fast-track training of great numbers of teachers.  Cost saving is one of the perceived benefits of this approach – only one teacher needs to attend an expensive training course.  The knowledge gained on the course can then be passed on progressively to all in the organization.

When you introduce technology into your school and have the need to train all teachers in its use, this may be a tempting strategy.  In theory the cascade training model seems to be cost and time effective.  But does it work?

In a cascade in nature the force of gravity ensures that the all the water reaches the bottom.  The force of gravity is not operative when you try to empower all your teachers with technology skills.

You probably would select the most qualified person in terms of passion and affinity to technology – and training ability – to be at the top of the cascade.  If the members of the first group who receive training are less qualified, the effectiveness of the training they offer to subsequent groups will be diluted.  They can only pass on what they themselves value, remember and understand.

In many cases the envisaged cascade is reduced to a mere trickle of knowledge when it reaches the last teachers.

Minimal knowledge may reach the teachers at the bottom

The cascade model may be useful for creating initial technology awareness among all staff members.  When more intensive training is required, you can’t depend on this model.  Teachers are at different levels of technical competency – a one-size-fits-all training approach will not yield desired results.

If you want technology training of your teachers to be effective, don’t just put a ‘model’ in place, hoping it will work.  Ensure that each teacher receives all the training, coaching and support they need to make them skilled users of technology teaching tools.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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What is the teacher’s responsibility with regards to cyber-bullying and sexting?

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 | Learners, security | 1 Comment

The principal is responsible for establishing and enforcing policies to contend with cases of cyber-bullying and sexting in the school.  Classroom teachers have an even greater responsibility, since they are dealing more directly with learners who may be affected by these practices.

What can teachers do?

Recognize the reality of cyber-bullying and sexting in your classroom.

If it is important that the principal must recognize the prevalence of these vices in the school, it is even more important that you must accept the fact that they are more than likely being practised by some learners in your classroom.  Ignoring this reality is the same as closing your eyes to the possibility that some learners are using drugs – you may wish that this is not happening, but it does!

Understand clearly how cyber-bullying and sexting work.

How do learners use technology for these practices?  What are the various forms they take?  This implies that you must have a solid understanding of the technologies your learners are using.  Do they have cell phones?  For what do they use them?  Do they have access to computers?  Are they using social networks?  Do you understand how these tools – which you may be using for teaching – can be abused?

Let them know what you know. 

It is important that your learners know that you are aware of cyber-bullying and sexting.  You must be one step ahead of them so that you’re not caught by surprise.  Have open discussions with them in class about the matter.   You can deal with the topic during Life Orientation sessions, but it could also naturally come up during other lessons.  The innocent learners in your class – the potential victims of cyber-bullying and sexting – must be prepared: they need guidance on how to handle these abuses and must know that you are there for them if they need your help.  Similarly, the culprits (or future ones) must be deterred – they need to understand the consequences of their actions.

The one thing you must not do is to blame technology for cyber-bullying and sexting.  Banning technology will not solve the problem, and is akin to banning books because of the likelihood that they may contain pornographic material.

The safe use of technology is an important twenty-first century skill you must impart to your learners.  Teachers who accept this responsibility are indeed a blessing to their learners.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What is the principal’s responsibility with regards to cyber-bullying and sexting?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 | Learners, security | 5 Comments

Principals know how to handle cases of unacceptable behaviour of learners in their schools.  Cyber-bullying and sexting are just different forms of misbehaviour.  Of course, they have just recently appeared on the radar of taboos in a school, made possible by technology, but they are merely contemporary manifestations of age-old problems.

The following suggestions may be of use to you while you’re grappling with these new challenges:

Recognize the reality of cyber-bullying and sexting.

These vices are more than likely already practiced in your school.  You could hide your head in the sand like an ostrich, but that will not make the problem go away.

You must understand exactly how cyber-bullying and sexting work.

How do learners use technology for these practices?  What are the various forms they take?  What tools do they use? What are the social networks available to them?  This implies that you must have a solid understanding of the use of different technologies, such as cell phones and social networking tools.

Let them know what you know.

It is important that your teaching staff, parents and learners know that you are aware of what is happening in your school.  You must be one step ahead so that you’re not caught by surprise.

Establish and enforce policies for acceptable behaviour.

You need to convince all stakeholders in your school to establish policies regarding cyber-bullying and sexting.  Call these vices by name in your document.  Publish the policy.  And don’t hesitate to enforce it!

Accept the fact that cyber-bullying and sexting are not technology problems.

Technology is only used as a convenient medium.  Don’t blame the technology.  Some principals feel that they should ban the use of cell phones in the school and curb the use of other forms of technology.  If you hope that such restrictions will stop the problem, you are mistaken.  Children will smuggle cell phones into school, or simply continue to use them at home.

Don’t despair about the way in which technology has complicated your life – think about the ways in which it has made your life easier.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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What is cyber-bullying?

Sunday, October 17th, 2010 | internet | 6 Comments

An unintended, unwelcome consequence of technology is cyber-bullying.

What is cyber-bullying?

The prefix cyber is used in many terms to describe new things that are being made possible by modern information and communication technologies, such as computers, cell phones and the internet.

We know the phenomenon of bullying among children – when weaker ones are intimidated by others through name-calling, spreading of rumours, threats, breaking their things, and physical abuse.

Cyber-bullying is the use of technology to achieve the objectives of the bully.  Since many modes of technology are available to children, cyber-bullying can take many forms – the methods used are limited only by the child’s imagination and access to technology.  Examples are:

Facebook is often used to post nasty comments with the intent of insulting, hurting or harming the reputation of a youngster.  These comments could be text, such as “Sally has slept with every boy in the class”; at times they may be in the form of photographs, which have been doctored into a slanderous image.

Cell phones can take this practice to even younger children.  Hurtful messages are sent, such as:  “You are fat and ugly and we all hate you”.  It is even possible to send these messages anonymously – simply buy a SIM card at a supermarket for a few cents, send the messages, and dispose of the card.  Nobody will ever trace the bully – but the damage has been done.

The effects of cyber-bullying on children can be the same as that of physical bullying: low self-esteem, frustration, anger, depression, loss of friends, exclusion from social activities, and in severe cases even suicide attempts.

Our children are growing up in an environment that has changed dramatically over the past decade and it is an absolute necessity that principals stay on track with developing technology.  Many schools and parents report that cyber-bullying is on the increase in South Africa and protecting our children against it is no longer optional.

The first step a principal must take to fight cyber-bullying is to gain an understanding of the problem.

For more tips for principles, click here.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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The greatest challenge of technology in education – how can principals overcome it?

Friday, October 15th, 2010 | technology | 3 Comments

The greatest challenge principals face when establishing technology in their schools is motivating the teaching staff.  Of course, if the principal does not support the use of technology in the school, the teachers will claim that the principal is the greatest challenge.  Principals, never let that happen!

Some school managers become despondent when valuable resources are used to provide technology facilities – computer labs or technology in classrooms – only to discover that teachers are reluctant to use them.  “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” they may lament if their efforts are fruitless.

This is indeed a challenge!  But have you considered why horses don’t drink when taken to the water? (By the way, the analogy of horses is not altogether inappropriate in an education context – many educators are indeed industrious work horses.)

They may be too tired to drink.

The burden of administrative demands placed upon teachers by the bureaucracy often leaves them with little energy to try new things.  You have to create space on their busy schedules to allow time for training and experimentation.  You may even have to fight the bureaucracy to allocate time for this important activity.

They may not be thirsty.

It is only when teachers have a clear understanding of the reasons why they should involve themselves with technology that they willingly will become involved.  Understanding the “why” goes beyond simply learning to operate equipment and usually does not happen as a result of a few training sessions.

They may not have access.

Teachers become frustrated if they had been trained to use technology but then do not have the opportunity to practise their new skills.  This may happen if they do not have access to the computer room because the schedule is full.  You can’t blame a teacher for not using technology if you do not make room for them to do so.

Motivating the entire staff of a school to use technology is a huge challenge – you may not succeed with every individual.  Work with those who show some willingness and create an inviting environment for them to become involved.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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Excellent use of technology in a poor school

Saturday, October 9th, 2010 | technology | 4 Comments

A small school on the West Coast of South Africa did exceptionally well in the CAMI Speed Challenge, which was held in George yesterday and today.  This school is Riverlands Primary, serving a rural community in the farmlands between Atlantis and Malmesbury.

The principal, Jonathan Saunders, accompanied 23 finalists to the event.  The school has 242 learners, which means that nearly 10% of the school qualified as finalists for this challenge.  In the semi-finals 46 learners participated – 20% of the school population.

The principal and Grade 8 learners

Jonathan explained that the main reason for the school’s participation is to improve numeracy results.  All learners, from Grade 1 through to Grade 8, are exposed to technology with a view to honing their mathematics skills.  The top learners are then enrolled for the Speed Challenge.  Overall, learners are helped to improve their ability to perform mental maths, including multiplication tables.

The principal is committed to improving education in a disadvantaged community.  He said that one of the secondary benefits of participating in competitions of this nature is that it builds self-confidence in learners.  They sit side by side with learners of the top schools of the country – and often beat them.  This year Riverlands scored 1 first place in a grade, 2 second places and 2 third places – this equates to 5 medals!

The school received 20 computers from the Khanya Project, and won an interactive whiteboard in another competition a while ago.  One Grade 8 boy, Lucien Titus (left on the picture above), is a keen computer user.  He switches the computer, whiteboard and data projector on in the morning, and loads the required software for the day’s lessons before teaching starts.  “He knows far more about technology than most of us,” one of his teachers said. “When we get stuck, he solves the problem for us.”

Aside from using technology to build mathematical proficiency, it is also used in other learning areas.  For example, Grade 8 learners use presentation software to prepare and present oral work.

Many lessons can be learned from this school:

Wise use of technology can indeed lead to improved learner performance.

The lead of the principal is important.

When they get stuck teachers must not be scared to allow learners to help them.

Technology can serve as an equalizer in a system riddled with inequalities.

Well done Riverlands!  I applaud Jonathan Saunders, his team of dedicated teachers and the bold learners of the school for demonstrating how technology can make a difference in a school.

For the Afrikaans version of this posting, click here.

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Under what circumstances will technology not lead to success?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 | technology | 5 Comments

Technology does not always lead to success – it does not automatically lead to improved teaching and learning.

The introduction of technology in the business world only yields results when it supports the objectives of the organization. A good organization structure must be present – throwing a lot of technology at a problem will not make it disappear if the establishment itself is dysfunctional.

The same principles are true in a school environment. Attractive as technology may appear to a school, it is unlikely to add much value under the following circumstances:

Poor leadership: Where the principal, management team and governing body do not give clear direction in general educational matters, it is doubtful that they will do so when it comes to the use of advanced technology. If sound leadership is lacking, this matter must be addressed before you even think of introducing technology.

Dysfunctional school: Sadly, some schools fall into this category – some schools struggle to persuade learners and their teacher to be in the same classroom at the same time. In such situations it is a waste of time, effort and money to introduce technology interventions.

Inadequate infrastructure: This aspect is often overlooked. Technology can not be introduced in a vacuum – electricity, security and reasonable space must be provided before it is brought into a room.

Unwilling teachers: Where teachers resist the use of technology in the classroom one can’t expect results. Hesitancy to use technology may be caused by a lack of exposure to technology. These stumbling blocks must first be addressed. Introduce technology progressively if some teachers are unwilling to use it, initially giving it to those teachers who are comfortable using it.

Technical support: Nothing is as disheartening to teachers as when the technology fails when they try to do it. Planning to introduce technology in the school must include maintenance and support aspects.

Training is not available: If no training is available, technology may end up being white elephants. Along with the technology, adequate training for teachers must be provided.

There is ample evidence that technology can lead to improved teaching and learning – success depends on the environment in which you try to embed it.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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What is the role of the principal when technology is introduced into a school?

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 | education, technology | Comments Off

When technology is introduced into a school, the importance of the principal’s role can’t be overstated – without strong leadership an investment in technology is in jeopardy.

What do we expect of the principal?  Let’s look at a few essentials:

Understand the technology: The principal must be convinced that technology will make a difference to teaching and learning.  Such an understanding will require a thorough knowledge of available technologies and how they support the pedagogy.

Give clear direction: It is not good enough to allow technology into the school.  Unambiguous direction must be given to teachers as to how and when they should use the equipment.

Create training opportunities: This entails more than identifying available training and arranging for sessions for staff members – the principal must allow teachers time to undergo training and insist that all those who are scheduled to be trained must indeed attend the sessions.

Monitor on an ongoing basis: Even after clear directives are given and adequate training is provided, some teachers may still not use technology at their disposal.  The principal can only gauge the successful use of the equipment if constant monitoring takes place.  The easiest way to do this is by taking a walkabout from time to time – this also gives the principal the opportunity to observe good practice, give commendation, or offer encouragement where needed.

Set the example: A good example is by far the best way in which a principal can promote successful use of technology.  People follow their leaders – teachers follow the heads of their schools.  Teachers will take their cue from a principal who is a technology practitioner.

Principals play a crucial role in successful use of technology – schools with such leaders are truly blessed.

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What really motivates teachers?

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 | Employment | 9 Comments

Teachers want to know that people notice.  This may be their colleagues, other schools, and especially the learners and their parents.

Teachers want their principals to notice the job that is being done.  They want to know that their leaders know what is happening in the classroom.

Teachers like to know that what they do matters and that it is important to the school.  This means they want to know and feel that they make a difference.  They want to build and have a good reputation.

Teachers want to have the tools needed to do the job well.  It is frustrating when equipment doesn’t work, or if it takes a long time to be fixed.  Teachers want to have what it takes to get the job done.  [This is particularly true when technology has been introduced into the school – school managers have the responsibility to see to it that digital tools are well maintained].

Teachers want to know they are supported.  This means the principal must be approachable and is part of the team.  The leader listens and helps them solve problems.  There is a feeling of working together towards a common goal.

Teachers want to feel a part of the big picture and to know they are appreciated.  They are motivated when they are treated as the asset they are.

[This posting is adapted from Liz Cosline’s blog posting: “What Really Motivates Employees?”]

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