During the previous 30 years, powerful digital technology has restructured how we communicate and how we live. Internet-ready mobile phones, tablets and laptops have become an intrinsic part of everyday life that has been mirrored by a seismic growth of educational technology in schools. Indeed, global expenditure is expected to reach as much as £190 billion by 2020 (Spaven, 2016). Broad academic opinion suggests that digital technology has the potential to improve learning opportunities, workflow and even reduce teacher workload (Bingimlas, 2009).
Nevertheless, some research indicates that digital devices in schools can also have a significant negative effect on outcomes and can be an expensive gamble for schools when budgets are already stretched. Some difficulties derive from an incoherent understanding of the everyday instructional benefits that technology can facilitate (Adams, 2016) . Moreover, much of the academic literature suggests that many of the challenges originate from poor long-term planning that failed to consider network infrastructure, ownership models, stakeholder engagement, evaluation of progress and perhaps most fundamentally of all, associated continuous professional development (CPD).
As teachers know, there is an ever-growing variety of different CPD options available to schools, however the increasing range by no means guarantees quality. Like with the adoption of technology, ill-considered CPD leadership and management can be expensive and is unlikely to wield improved student outcomes. For every expensive failed technological adoption there is an equally ineffective education “guru” who is willing to charge schools a small fortune for their wisdom yet with little or no evidence of impact. Whatever CPD you experience, it is worth remembering that it should not be a short-term intervention, rather a long-term process.
At the school I work at, we have invested significantly in digital infrastructure which has been the backbone behind a 1:2:1 iPad adoption from Year Six to Year Eight, where the expectation is that all pupils bring in their own device to assist with their learning. The project is nearly at the end of it’s third year and previous in-house research has demonstrated that opinion on the iPad scheme from teachers, pupils and parents has been positive. Nevertheless, when considering that one of the prevailing reasons for failed technology implementations is a lack of suitable continuous professional development, we have offered a variety of different CPD solutions to help teachers and pupils get the best out of the devices. However, how useful has it been? I recently conducted some research for my MA in Educational Leadership and Management to ascertain perceived value and work out some useful strategies moving forward, which can also be applied to more general CPD as well.
Paramount to the success of any technological adoption is the procurement of suitable resources. This does not simply mean buying a bunch of iPads. The accompanying infrastructure all needs to work as well. Although, it should be remembered, even when resources are available, it does not guarantee a successful integration.
This study revealed a sizable minority (33.3%) of teachers reporting they felt they did not have the required resources to successfully deploy iPads. Interestingly, the iPads themselves were not cited as resources that were causing issues, rather it was surrounding infrastructure such as projectors, access to devices and time that were cited. Instead of simply amassing more technology, leadership and management need to ensure a sustainable plan is in place for the maintenance of all equipment involved in iPad workflow.
High-quality internal professional development offers the opportunity to remove barriers and improve teacher efficacy (Kopcha, 2011). We have run internal workshops on a varity of Apps, pedagogical concepts and ways in which to integrate iPads into everyday teaching.
80% of all respondents had attended internal workshops; these have taken various formats and have normally occurred on average three times a term. Furthermore, 100% of attendees reported a positive impact, 28.6% stating a ‘highly positive’ impact. The qualitative data cited ‘the chance to learn in a ‘relaxed environment’, ‘learning new skills and gaining confidence’, ‘able to ask questions’, and ‘peer-to-peer collaboration and hands on learning, not just a session delivered from the front’ as advantages of the in-house workshops and reasons why staff returned for more than one session
Nevertheless, the data also revealed that 57% of teachers had only attended between 1-3 sessions; timing and workload were cited as reasons for this. Therefore, leadership and management should undertake a creative analysis of time allowance for CPD and make subsequent provision for staff development.
Sometimes expensive external workshops or CPD sessions can prove to be intellectually superficial and inadequate for teacher needs. However, we have tended to utilise free opportunities like the highly regarded sessions run by TRAMS in London. Again, all respondents reported that external workshops had a positive impact; 40% implying it was highly positive. The opportunity for ‘networking’, to ‘chat to experts’ and ‘see the wider pictures of how Apps can be used’ also provided qualitative information about the advantages as deemed by staff. Nevertheless, over 50% of the teachers who responded had never actually attended an external workshop and 60% only attended one session.
The unlikelihood of long-lasting change occurring when professional development is not continuous is well-documented. Therefore, by their very nature workshops with no follow-up are unlikely to have a deep impact. Teachers referenced workload, cover and finances as reasons why attendance was generally low.
Coaching and Mentoring
Mentoring should be considered as a process to manage career transition, normally between an experienced mentor and a less experienced mentee. Various studies suggest that mentor programs assist novice teachers and the moral and emotional support is valued as much as pedagogical guidance. Coaching is a different, but equally as powerful mechanism for situated professional development that involves peer-to-peer discussions that provide the coached teacher objective feedback on both weaknesses and strengths in self-selected areas. Coaching can help develop meta-cognitive articulation, reflection and exploration skills whilst helping teachers to become more aware of their pedagogic understanding.
Only 34% of respondents confirmed they had experienced either coaching or mentoring as a form of iPad CPD. All respondents reported a positive impact, but coaching in particular had a high impact upon practice according to the results. Qualitative feedback confirmed perceived advantages of coaching and mentoring as ‘a chance to ask very basic questions’, ‘developing good relations with trusted partners’, ability to ‘ask specific questions to my own use’, ‘can-do rassurance and ‘gain in confidence’. Disadvantages were cited as time constraints and internet connectivity issues.
Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s)
Although not all PLN’s are digital, teachers are increasingly utilising digital technology for CPD. Global networks of support allow them to take advantage of collective knowledge and experiences from friends, colleagues, teachers and educationalists from all over the planet. These PLN’s offer constant, on-demand support therefore allowing for cost and time effective development of practitioner careers.
Teachers involved in PLN’s formed 43% of respondents and 100% of them reported an impact on practice. Advantages specified included ‘new ideas’, ‘comfort knowing that colleagues struggle with same issues’, ‘keeping up-to-date with current issues in teaching’ and ‘amazing for subject knowledge’. Nevertheless, 57% of teachers were therefore not benefiting from the perceived advantages of Personal Learning Networks and again, time restraints were revealed as a difficulty. The sheer amount of information was also mentioned as a disadvantage.
The Apple Teacher is a free professional learning course aimed at supporting and celebrating educators who use Apple technology for teaching and learning. Eight badges are required to pass and each badge can be obtained after completing a short, multiple-choice quiz on-line. It has been introduced as part of the iPad CPD programme within the context of this study as an optional CPD pathway. 30% of respondents reported that they had passed the course and were now Apple Teachers whilst 40% reported to have earned some of the badges – this constituted 12 teachers. 12 respondents also reported the program had impacted upon their practice. Advantages of Apple Teacher included learning new methods, increase in confidence and improved proficiency.
Two teachers reported ‘No Impact’ from Apple Teacher. All disadvantages that were shared once more focused on the school level barrier of time as being the main constraint.
Practices, Beliefs and Attitudes
The behaviour of teachers is normally determined by attitude as opposed to knowledge (Pajares, 1992). Therefore, preordained negative views of different types of CPD has the potential to be a significant barrier to any introduction. The problem deepens for school leaders hopeful of integrating coaching, mentoring or PLN’s as teacher beliefs are rarely completely reversed and, over the course of time, can become ever more firmly entrenched and highly resistant to change (Ertmer, 2005). Nevertheless, there are inconsistencies concerning teacher belief and the actualities of classroom behaviour. Indeed, contextual influences could hinder the opportunity for teachers to administer personal beliefs in their classrooms; for example, avoiding high quality personalised CPD within an overriding culture of learning and innovation would be incompatible.
Regarding the use of iPads in education, general opinions at my school were positive among respondents; 88% believed that iPads allowed for greater ownership of learning whilst 72% did not consider iPads to be a distraction. Indeed, not one teacher disagreed with the notion that if used effectively, iPads had the potential to enrich the learning experience of pupils.
In conclusion, nearly every modern proposal for improving education and adopting new technologies cites high-quality professional development as a key component. Therefore, as the Independent Preparatory School at which this research took place recently adopted Wi-Fi and iPads, an evaluation of the associated CPD provision offered an opportunity to critically reflect on current practice and consider possibilities to improve teaching and learning. This study ascertained a positive overview of the iPad CPD provision and indeed, an encouraging staff attitude towards the devices. It revealed that the form of CPD itself need not be a concern as long as it provides high quality, personalised opportunities for teachers to improve teaching and learning when using iPads in their classroom. However, it also revealed that many teachers were not utilising all the different CPD opportunities at their disposal and raised concerns about the availability of resources.
Therefore, this study proposes that to improve the situation and help maintain a genuine learning culture in which iPads are ubiquitously used by teachers to facilitate transformational learning opportunities, there are ten key actions for development:
- A holistic shared understanding of the aims of iPad CPD
- Relevant resources need to be available and maintained
- Raising awareness of available personalised CPD opportunities
- Utilisation of PLN’s to be encouraged
- Sufficient time allowance needs to be made for professional development
- iPad CPD opportunities need to be personalised
- iPad CPD needs to be monitored and impact evaluated
- Positive personal experience of iPad needs to be facilitated
- Good practice needs to be shared and modelled
- An environment created that encourages teacher leadership
In addition, this research necessitated a subsequent measurement of impact via future rounds of research.
It is widely acknowledged that simple acquisition of technology in education will do nothing to improve standards. This research and the wider literature agree that school leaders, and those in charge of CPD, whether iPad related or not, need to develop a culture of learning, where teachers know that opportunities for professional development will help improve their practice, skills and knowledge. Teachers need to be able to tailor their professional development for direct impact on their own practice and be afforded the opportunity to take responsibility for pedagogical improvement. When adopting iPads or indeed other new technologies or strategies successfully, they must become an everyday part of teachers’ repertoire with tangible results and positive impact in their classrooms. The needs of teachers are best ascertained by clear and open-dialogue. With relevant and positive conversations taking place, the evolution of common-purpose may contribute to the ability of this school, and those further afield, to maintain and develop the use of iPads in a transformational way. Indeed, the creation of a culture with genuine distributed leadership could also provide an environment where teachers routinely and willingly learn from one another and from their wider PLN’s. Furthermore, teachers would be more likely to feel empowered to experiment with iPads and utilise the new skills and knowledge they have procured.
Like teachers, each educational system, and each school within it, must be regarded with their own identity, idiosyncrasies and culture. Nevertheless, unless change initiatives ultimately have direct, positive impact on students for whose future teachers are partly responsible, they are unlikely to succeed anywhere. Although it is too early to ascertain any-long term impact of this research, the findings of my study have already impacted upon practice at my school. The mentoring and coaching program has been expanded and more people are becoming involved with the planning and delivery of iPad CPD; indicative of increased distributed-leadership. Furthermore, this research has already helped shape future technological, iPad CPD and leadership developmental plans and will continue to do so with further action-research cycles.
Fundamentally, if school leadership teams are focused on the provision of the highest possible standards for their students and feel iPads can assist with that goal, they must develop and sustain a culture that encourages teachers to experiment, discover and learn from their mistakes together.
Adams, R. (2016) Students who use digital devices in class ‘perform worse in exams’. The Guardian. 11th May 2016, [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/may/11/students-who-use-digital-devices-in-class-perform-worse-in-exams
Bingimlas, K.A. (2009) Barriers to the successful integration of ICT in teaching and learning environments: A review of the literature. Eurasia journal of mathematics, science & technology education, 5(3).
Ertmer, P. (2005) Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration? Educational Technology Research and Development, [online] 53(4): pp.25- 39. Available at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02504683
Kopcha, T. (2011) Teachers’ perceptions of the barriers to technology integration and practices with technology under situated professional development. Computers and Education, [online] 59(4): pp.1109-1121. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512001352
Spaven, E. (2016) Report: EdTech spend will reach $252bn by 2020 [online]. Available at https://www.uktech.news/news/report-edtech-spend-will-reach-252bn-2020-20160526