Case Study X
This page was written by Alastair Reynolds.
This case relates to my work as a Maths teacher responsible for the introduction of a coherent IT policy. The account of the case is biographical, based primarily on my own experience. Copies of minutes of various meetings were used to clarify and corroborate the data collected, and the relevant excerpts from those minutes may be found in Appendix E.
The events in this case study took place between September 1995 and November 1996. Until September 1995 the IT facilities at school X had been limited, and were managed by one teacher and one technician. The same teacher was responsible for co-ordinating IT and also some teaching of IT. The current IT Manager at the school (ITM) was appointed in September 1995 with responsibility for managing the network and co-ordinating the IT provision across the school, taking on the two roles previously mentioned. As a non-teacher, he could not take on any IT teaching, but at this time there was a move towards providing IT through the teaching of Business Studies and Technology so this did not cause any problems. The teacher in the Maths department responsible for IT development (MITC) was also appointed in September 1995.
The Maths department had already considered the use of IT in Maths within the context of whole-school curriculum development. IT was being used by individuals within the department, but there was little conformity between teachers. Staff felt that IT was useful in certain areas, but some were unaware of the opportunities available for using IT in Maths.
It is worth noting that at the end of 1995 it became clear that the school would be inspected by OFSTED in February of 1997.
An initial stimulus for IT staff development
In late 1995, MITC was asked by the Head of Maths (HoM) to attend the IT Working Party meetings, because of his experience in the area of IT. At this time ITM was considering how best to provide IT teaching across the school according to National Curriculum guidelines. He discussed this with MITC on a number of occasions. In January 1996, while working to ensure that the school would meet the necessary requirements, ITM sent a memo (see Appendix E) to the Second in Maths (SiM). This memo explained that IT at KS4 would be carried within the core subjects of Maths, English, Science and RE. This was seen as a problem by SiM for two reasons; the lack of clarity over which elements would be provided by Maths, and the lack of time in an already crowded KS4 curriculum.
SiM brought these issues to the Maths department meeting where a second issue was raised by department members. It was generally felt that they should not be responsible for the teaching of IT, but that they would quite happily teach Maths using IT - an important distinction. They appreciated the need to formalise IT use across staff. It was also noted that Year 8 had just had its curriculum time increased, and as such that this would be an ideal area in which to develop the use of IT in Maths. MITC was asked to report back on ways of enhancing the teaching of Mathematics using IT at the next meeting.
Analysis of departmental needs and provision of training
MITC was aware that there was already a significant amount of expertise within the department, and that this would be a good starting point. At the next meeting of the department he explained that the department would already be meeting some parts of the IT requirements as part of the fulfilment of the Maths requirements. It was agreed that the next INSET day would be given over to IT development. The first part of the day would be used to:
It was found that the majority of the topics where IT could be useful were in years seven to nine, and that as such it would be sensible to carry out most of the IT provision in year eight, where a lesson a week could be allocated to IT-based lessons for two terms of the year.
The INSET was deemed successful in that had achieved the following:
MICT also agreed to draw up a department policy regarding IT, including details of activities to be included in the year eight scheme of work.
Formalisation of departmental policy
In September of 1996, MITC provided a working draft of the IT policy. It included guidance as to what topics would be enhanced by the use of IT, and the order in which they would be taught (fitting in with the scheme of work). The guidelines for individual activities would be provided throughout the year, with a view to putting together a final package once the year was completed - it was anticipated that changes would be made at regular intervals. A key point was the following agreed statement:
The key feature of I.T. in Mathematics is that the computer is a tool. For teachers they provide a valuable teaching aid, and for pupils they can encourage new ways of learning. The aim of the Mathematics department is not to teach pupils how to use computers, but to use computers in the teaching of Maths. Pupils will be therefore have the opportunity, as appropriate, to develop and apply their IT capability in their study of Mathematics.This version and the latest version of the department IT Policy can be found in Appendix F and Appendix G respectively.
Over the next year, more INSET was provided and the use of IT became commonplace. Support was made available where possible although this was generally outside lesson time because of timetable restrictions. The policy was finalised in October 1997.
Identification of critical incidents
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.” In this case there are 2 particular incidents:
The memo sent to SiM by ITM proved critical for a number of reasons:
The second critical incident was the first INSET day:
Factors affecting success
In the literature review, three factors were identified as being important to the success of staff development. These were an appropriate level of work for the intended participants in courses, a motivation to use IT in the classroom, and a high level of support available for participants once they return to the classroom.
Of these three, the most significant in this case study was the issue of motivation. Some members of the department would have been unhappy about using IT for its own sake, but began to see the benefits of the innovations when given the opportunity to try them out. A secondary motivation for all staff (but especially the Head of Maths) was the impending OFSTED inspection, and the changes in requirements for IT provision in the National Curriculum. However, these secondary factors would probably not have been enough in themselves - the department members’ primary concern was to improve teaching and learning.
The level of support provided varied between different members of the department, depending mainly on their competence in using IT. It is worth noting that when a new teacher joined the department after the policy had been finalised it was assumed that they would be able to use the resources without too much assistance. They actually needed the most support, probably because they had not been involved in the initial development process. The early support must therefore have been influential in the success of the development.
The staff involved were already reasonably competent in basic IT use, and as such the level of work covered during the staff development was not particularly an issue. Had there been a range of abilities this would definitely need to have been addressed.
A final factor identified in this case as being important is the issue of willingness to progress on the part of participants in staff development. In this case the staff were willing (although not always eager) to learn new skills. Had they not been, it is hard to imagine that a coherent policy on IT use would have been agreed.
Phases of development
Kirkman (1998) mentions how the seven stage model proposed by Passey and Ridgeway for integrating IT into the curriculum can be useful for assessing the extent of staff development. The stages are:
Through the case study it would appear that the three factors identified in the literature review as being key to success were relevant, although the extent to which they were important did depend on the situation. A final identified factor was the willingness on the part of participants to learn new skills. Without this the development would have been unlikely to succeed.
I am more aware as a result of carrying out this study that success was dependent on many events which went in the development’s favour. I realise that, like teaching, there is only so much one can control and that there will always be outside factors to deal with. Through reviewing the literature I have been able to see several links between my own practice and the theory which has been produced as a result of others’ practice, and have found myself looking at my practice in new ways.
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