University of Exeter - School of Education B.Phil / M.Ed Modular Degree Programme
Teaching Effectively with ICT - G162 Spring 1998 Professor Niki Davis
Date Due: May 15, 1998 Date Submitted: May 15, 1998
Reflection on two case studies of staff development with a small group
Submitted by: Alastair Reynolds and Megan Dick No previous modules undertaken

Literature Review (off-line resources)
This page was written by Alastair Reynolds.


The first part of this web page examines why IT staff development is currently a central issue in education. Some arguments for implementing staff development with small groups are considered, as well as some factors which are important for successful staff development. A large part of the assignment will involve reviewing and reflecting on experiences of staff development and as such there is a discussion of some techniques which could be useful for this task.

A separate web page contains a review of the on-line resources which relate to this assignment.

The need for staff development in IT

Information and communication technology is becoming an integral part of the daily life of most pupils in UK schools. The provision of the IT National Curriculum to pupils became compulsory for all key stages in August 1997. The Information Technology in the National Curriculum document (DFE 1995) states that “the programme of study for each key stage should be taught to the great majority of pupils in the key stage”, and that “pupils should be given opportunities, where appropriate, to develop and apply their IT capability in their study of National Curriculum subjects.” The documents for each of the other National Curriculum subjects contain references to the use of IT within those subjects. This means that IT is no longer solely a tool for the enthusiastic teacher who can see the benefit of IT in enhancing teaching and learning; every teacher has a role to play in the development of IT capability in pupils.

There is an obvious associated problem with the expectation placed on teachers that they should be using IT effectively in teaching; many teachers lack the knowledge and skills required. This has led to a need for significant staff development in the area of IT. The Teacher Training Agency (1998) has proposed an Initial Teacher Training National Curriculum for the use of Information and Communications Technology in Subject Teaching (currently under consultation) to address the problem at the level of those entering the profession. The document specifies an “essential core of knowledge, understanding and skills”, equipping trainees “to make sound decisions about when, when not, and how to use ICT effectively in teaching particular subjects.” It also places a responsibility on ITT providers to ensure that training is “firmly rooted within the relevant subject and phase, rather than teaching how to use ICT generically or as an end in itself.”

The document also states that teachers will be expected, throughout their careers, to “continue to improve their skills in using ICT for professional purposes”, and “keep up to date with the use of ICT in the subjects they teach.” For the large part, the responsibility for this professional development has fallen on schools and teachers themselves. Staff development has not generally been co-ordinated at a regional or national level in the same way as, for example, it has been in the USA. Geisert and Futrell describe the changes in computer use in education during the 1980s:

The 1980s saw a tremendous surge in microcomputer-related activity within every component of the national educational scene ... The decade dramatically enhanced the microcomputer availability picture, particularly within the nation’s elementary schools. The 1980s also saw vast numbers of school districts reconsidering their K 12 curriculum in terms of students’ learning experiences with computers, and almost every state established either high-school graduation requirements or guidelines for students’ computer-related learning.
(Geisert and Futrell 1990:5)

There have been some recent moves to redress the balance in the UK, with some local education authorities taking a more active role in the co-ordination of IT development, and with the introduction of initiatives such as the National Grid for Learning and the Virtual Teacher Centre. Even so, schools still have the primary responsibility for the development of their staff in the area of IT use.

Staff development with small groups

The examples of IT staff development being considered in this study are mainly in the context of work with small groups and individuals, rather than whole-school IT development and policy.

Donnelly (1996) divides the ways in which schools can provide IT training for staff into four main sections. These are:

While off-site courses will often provide the opportunity to find out about new hardware and software, a common problem encountered is that it is hard to ascertain beforehand whether the course will be at an appropriate level for the prospective participants. This can be slightly alleviated when bringing a training-provider on-site because it is likely that staff at one school will have more needs in common. Both these options also have a high cost. Implementing training within school using staff expertise means that the teacher providing the staff development will be much more aware of the needs of staff, and will be able to focus the training accordingly. The final option, using software, tends to be used more for addressing problems after they occur, because of the nature of the help facilities in most software. Some packages contain fully-fledged interactive tutorials but these tend to be the exception rather than the norm.

Donnelly also makes the point that when considering training methods, “the most important thing to bear in mind is that every member of staff needs to start at his or her own level of competence and move forward from there.” In an article on the provision of support for IT professional development, Davis (1992) mentions that when making the case for staff and institutional development at Exeter University, she expressed the view that “professional development for Information Technology needs to start from the interests and needs of the individual.” Implementing staff development with a small group of individuals will mean that the work can be more closely aimed at that groups needs, leading to greater effectiveness. It is also likely that this method of support will be less costly. Davis, however, later notes with regard to development at the institutional and group levels, that “it is important that the two occur in parallel, in order to avoid problems commonly experienced by many IT co-ordinators and staff, such as lack of resources.” It should be remembered that work with small groups will often not be effective unless there is support from the management of the institution.

We can see that adapting training to the needs of the participants is one important factor in the success of staff development. A second factor which is relevant is that of motivation. Teachers are often unwilling to accept that there is any good reason for using IT over conventional teaching methods, possibly to a lack of confidence in their own IT skills. Harris (1992) notes that Modern Languages student teachers in a PGCE group showed “little evidence of the scepticism shown by some modern language teachers”, and attributes this to the ways in which IT is becoming an integrated part of everyday life. It was also noted how staff attitudes were crucial, with some students not using IT in schools because of a lack of interest from their departments.

In many accounts of staff development, the process is initiated by the introduction of a key tool - an application of IT which teachers can clearly see will benefit the teaching and/or learning of their subject. Davis (1997) describes a case where colleagues responsible for the education of art teachers rejected a computer paint program as a useful tool, but were enthusiastic about the possibilities available through the use of interactive video disks of museums and art galleries. Here the motivation acted as a catalyst to further staff development.

A third important factor is the support available to participants in staff development programmes. Davis (1997) lists several different forms which support can take:

In her account of the introduction of IT in the teaching and learning of Humanities, Horton (1992) indicates that the support offered to her was of paramount importance. This support took a variety of forms, including one-to-one tuition and team teaching.

Techniques for analysis of case studies of staff development

Many cases of staff development in IT have been reviewed using a case study approach; several examples feature in the DITTE publications. Hitchcock and Hughes (1995) describe a case study as follows:

The major characteristic of a case study is the concentration on a particular incident ... Case studies evolve around the in-depth study of a single event or a series of linked cases over a defined period of time. The researcher tries to locate the ‘story’ of a certain aspect of social behaviour in a particular setting and the factors influencing the situation. In this way themes, topics and key variables may be isolated. The situation becomes the focus of attention.
(Hitchcock and Hughes 1995:317)

Bell (1987) picks out a problem arising from small-scale case studies - it is unlikely that one will be able to draw general conclusions from a single sample (often called the N=1 factor). While she recognises that generalisation of principles from one case is not usually possible, she argues that the study of single events is still worthwhile using Bassey’s (1981) view that

an important criterion for judging the merit of a case study is the extent to which details are sufficient and appropriate for a teacher working in a similar situation to relate his decision making to that described in the case study. The relatability of a case is more important than its generalisability.
(Bassey 1981:85)

The presentation of many similar cases in different reports by different researchers can later be used to generalise about the situation; the single cases still have an important part to play.

When the researcher is involved in the case, the report will often take the form of a ‘diary’ record of the events which took place, with analysis of particular aspects of the case. If adequate care is not taken the likelihood of inaccuracies increases because the researcher’s memory of events may not correspond to the actual events which occurred. One way to limit the possibility for error is to use triangulation. Hitchcock and Hughes (1995) explain that triangulation can “help the researcher to establish the validity of the findings by cross-referencing, for example, different perspectives obtained from different sources, or by identifying different ways the phenomena are being perceived.” These alternative data sources might be in many different forms; responses to a questionnaire or interview or documentary evidence in the form of agendas and minutes of meetings. The inclusion of these alternative sources of evidence serves two purposes; to improve the internal validity of the case study analysis, and to allow the reader the opportunity to analyse the evidence from their perspective, thereby giving further triangulation.

A final tool for evaluating accounts of staff development with groups is the identification of incidents which had a significant positive or negative effect on the progress of the development. The concept of critical incidents is a common one in qualitative educational research. Hitchcock and Hughes (1995) describe a critical incident as “any happening which can be used as a focus or vehicle for looking at key aspects of a social or educational situation.” Tripp (1993) illustrates how recognising and analysing critical incidents and their effects can help in the generalisation of principles relating to a situation; principles on which we can then base further practice. As well as being useful for analysis of factors contributing to the outcome of a situation, critical incidents are also a stimulus for individual reflection on practice.


We can draw a variety of conclusions from this review. There is an obvious need for IT staff development amongst teachers but no clear guidelines about who is responsible for providing it. An effective solution, in terms of both outcome and cost, is the implementation of training for small groups or individuals within the school setting, using teachers' current expertise. Three key factors in the success of this type of staff development are:

We have also made initial choices regarding the research design; a case study approach will be adopted, and subsequent pages will give more detail about what data collection and analysis tools will be used.

You may now wish to go to the literature review of on-line resources if you have not already read it.
Otherwise you can move on to the introduction to the two case studies or return to the contents.


Click here to go to the assignment references page.

Assignment Quick Links
Title Page | Introduction | Contents | Off-line Literature Review | On-line Literature Review
Introduction to Cases | Case Study X | Case Study Y | Conclusions | References | Appendices