Case Study Y
This page was written by Megan Dick.
This case study will look at the development of IT capability in the History staff at School Y. The primary source of data about the case will be my own experience as a teacher in the department and interviews with members of the History Department and the Curriculum Manager in charge of IT development for the school.
New IT facilities have recently been introduced to School Y as a result of special funding received when the school was granted language college status. The school was networked in January 1998, and an ISDN link was installed at the same time. The new IT equipment that was installed in the school has primarily had to conform to the language college bid. Therefore, most of the new resources were provided for the Modern Foreign Languages Department. It was decided that a networked school, with access to the internet from any computer on site, was a valuable way of promoting international links for the school.
These developments have put demands on the staff of the school, as they have needed to become competent users of the new network. They have also had to try to learn how to use the internet and its associated software. Whole school IT use is at an early stage. IT has been taught as a discrete subject for several years, primarily to year 7. Pupils are generally IT literate but IT has been used to different extents within departments, so the level of skill of the staff as a whole is variable.
The primary problem for the History Department is one of access; the school site is large and facilities have effectively been 'allocated' to departments by their location and by the requirements of the language college bid. The History Department has received none of the new computers and has difficulty booking facilities which can be used conveniently with a whole class. History teachers interviewed for this study all mentioned lack of access as the factor that was inhibiting their use of the new technologies. One said,
I would like to be able to use IT as a resource for research in the classroom. It would be particularly useful to help with differentiation. I am not doing this because there are no computers close to my classroom.
|(See Appendix A for the interview with this teacher)|
As for computers for staff use, there was an Apple computer in the staffroom that has since been replaced by a networked PC. Many in the department were comfortable and competent users of that machine. A few teachers were not happy to see the Apple go, as they had become fairly proficient in its use. They were apprehensive about learning how to use a new computer. On the other hand, one teacher in the department was happy to see the new PC, as it was more similar to the computer they had at home. (See Appendix C for this interview) There is also a lack of easy access to this computer for the History staff, as the building that houses the History Department is the one with the least new computers and there are many people wanting to use one computer. In other parts of the school, this problem is not as evident, as there are more available computers.
When the new computers for student use arrived in January, the older networks were redistributed around the school. The History Department have fairly easy access to a classroom with about 10 RM Nimbus PCs. They are used to run some computer simulations which are useful for History teaching and which are not on the new school network machines, as they cannot be run on Windows 95. This has disheartened one of the teachers, who still finds these simulations of value, but sees that their continued use in the school is threatened. (Appendix C)
As a result of the problems with access, there was reduced motivation for History teachers to attempt to integrate further use of IT in the classroom. There is also a tendency to want to simply continue to use the old simulations and not to experiment with the newer technologies. However, this initial reluctance is diminishing as the teachers begin to experiment with the new technologies and begin to feel more confident. In general, many feel that the network is a valuable addition as there are many new technologies and applications on it that can be of use, especially the internet. (Appendix B) However, they all feel that more training time and wider access would be a great help to them in their attempts to improve their IT skills.
Whole school IT policy and staff development
The school does have a general policy of trying to get more IT embedded in the curriculum. All school departments have been asked to assign a few homeworks per term which could be done using IT; these could be homeworks that can be word processed or even research homeworks that make use of Encarta or other CDs that the school has installed on the network. Students can get access to computers at lunch and after school to do these. As well, the Head of IT team teaches with the Maths Department. According to the Deputy Head in charge of IT Development, “This achieves two targets at once. Teachers are sharing their experience with each other and IT is being integrated successfully into the Maths curriculum.” (Appendix D)
Staff training has been offered to help teachers learn how to use the new network. The Deputy Head described some of these opportunities:
The IT Co-ordinator offered workshops on using the network, Word and Excel and the internet when the network was installed, and these workshops were oversubscribed. ... (These workshops) offered by the IT Co-ordinator (were) on many topics, including the use of the network, webpage design, etc. There have also been drop-in sessions organized with the IT Co-ordinator and the IT technician. Many staff have gone on out of school INSET courses.
However, the courses offered by the IT Co-ordinator were oversubscribed, and because of this they did not manage to reach the majority of the staff. In addition, there has not been a lot of support after these sessions. The drop-in sessions also required extra time on the part of the teachers as they were after school.
The History Department’s primary source of staff development has been individually-guided informal training sessions. They are all fairly competent in the use of word processing but had never before experienced the internet or its accompanying software. I have provided training in this, as I am IT literate and comfortable using the new computers. Therefore, the staff have experimented with the new technologies on the staffroom computer, and have asked me for help when they want something explained or when they run into trouble. In this way, many of the department have become proficient users of e-mail and some have begun to browse the web.
Phases of development
There has not been a specific stimulus for staff development in the History Department. The new network has stimulated the whole staff to improve their IT skills but the History Department was initially sceptical about being able to make use of the new computers and network. This has since improved. Using a seven stage model proposed by Passey and Ridgeway for integrating IT into the curriculum (Kirkman 1998), the department’s stages of development can be understood. The stages are:
Factors affecting success
Three factors that were considered to have a significant effect on the success of staff-development were identified through the literature reviews. These were:
Having analysed the staff development of the History Department at School Y, it appears that the three factors identified as being necessary for success are not wholly present. But the innovations introduced to the school are new and this situation is therefore understandable. The management of the school is receptive to providing more training for its staff. As the school as a whole and the staff in the department become more proficient in the network’s use, I believe that these factors will begin to be satisfied.
This case study does serve to show some of the problems initially to be found in a school that has recently been put under pressure to accept and integrate new technologies. Not all of these problems have been met and remedied. At the start of this case study, I was fairly impatient with the school and the staff as a whole. I felt that the school had been presented with a great new resource and that its staff should be making a greater effort to use it. Since analysing this study, I am more able to accept that change will not happen overnight. The pressures of time and resources are too great to overcome so quickly, especially with a staff of teachers who are so busy already. Furthermore, I am impressed at the apparent speed with which the teachers I interviewed have taken the new innovations on board. I was not aware that they had managed to integrate so many of the changes or had learned as much as they have in so short a time.
I have also discovered that due care must be taken when planning a staff development strategy. In an article on the provision of support for IT professional development, Davis (1992) mentions that “professional development for Information Technology needs to start from the interests and needs of the individual.” I can see that the specific needs of the History Department need to be explored further before staff development can be planned for them. These needs should be taken into account so that they receive the training they need to be able to move their new skills into the classroom. In addition, Davis notes that it is important that development at the institutional and group levels, “occur in parallel, in order to avoid problems commonly experienced by many IT co-ordinators and staff, such as lack of resources.” This also needs to be further addressed at the school. The History Department has found this to be a problem already, as though they are becoming more motivated to try the new technologies, they are hampered by a lack of access to the computers they need to learn and develop.
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