I've been in a number of meetings recently where I hear a lot of the same old comments from teachers and school leaders about the use of ICTs in school, and the fact that this whole area seems to absorb so much time and thinking – and for what? Much of the conversation appears to be focus on the imact on teacher workload than student learning.
This sort of issue often goes un-resolved in staffrooms, with the 'evangalists' on one side gushing with enthusiasm and assumptions, and the 'stick-in-the-muds' on the other, complaining of no time for PD and too much time spent on compliance etc.
Truth is, there's a case that can be made on both sides, and it's only through a more disciplined approach to discovering what the drivers and consequences might be that we're likely to make any progress. So it is with interest that I re-discovered a publication out of the UK that is now 7 years old, but still provides some useful insights and evidence. Titled, Using ICT in Schools: Addressing Teacher Workload issues, this report aims to explore effective leadership and management strategies for the deployment of ICT among teachers and support staff within schools, including training and support structures. The research also looks at the extent to which the effective use of ICT can address teacher workloads and the experience and perceptions of the schools workforce towards the use of ICT.
Key findings in the report include:
- ICT does help to address workload for some teachers, especially those who are confident in using it.
- However, in some cases, teachers feel ICT increases their workload, with some tasks taking longer to complete.
- To reduce teacher workloads in more schools in future, ICT strategies will need to include specific workload aims – although this should not be at the expense of continuing to find ways in which ICT can raise quality and pupil performance.
- There will need to be improvements in ICT strategic planning in which strategic aims, hardware, software, connectivity, technical support and staff training and development, and support to overcome cultural barriers, are planned for in a cohesive way.
- The more teaching experience a teacher has, the less likely they were to feel that ICT had a positive effect on addressing their workload.
No surprises there, then – it reads like a bit of a "bob-each-way" sort of conclusion, depending on which side of the fence you sit. But digging a little deeper into the report I was interested to read the following:
From a statistical analysis of teachers’ survey responses in the fieldwork schools, we found teachers were most likely to perceive ICT had reduced their workload when:
- They were consulted on their ICT needs
- The school planned strategically for procuring ICT infrastructure and content
- They had sole access to a desktop computer in school
- They had the use of e-mail
- They perceived that ICT allowed or could allow support staff to undertake administration and clerical tasks
- They had the use of school ICT networks.
Now there's some useful evidence that could be used to guide the decision making that is taking place right now in schools around the country as they seek to upgrade their infrastructure and ICT systems to take advantage of Ultrafast Broadband (UFB).
A couple of other parts of the report (towards the end) that caught my eye are worth taking note of in this context. The first relates to the some of the systems and structures required to be in place to support the use of ICTs by teachers:
Based on findings from the fieldwork, well grounded strategies to achieve workload reductions using ICT would find ways to deliver:
- Alignment between ICT and other school policies. For example, there is little point expecting ICT to reduce the time taken for teacher planning if the school requires overly bureaucratic plans, or unnecessarily constrains teachers from cutting and adapting material from other sources
- Good access to ICT for home and school use – this boosts confidence, which we know to be associated with achieving efficiencies
- Staff training so that staff know when to use ICT and how to use it effectively and not simply how to use it
- Systems that are fully and properly maintained at all times, in a cost effective way
- Good access to content, for example making use of network material, and of shared areas to share and develop materials.
The second relates to issues of leadership, and the importance of leaders who are active in leading the use of ICTs in their schools:
Leadership factors cited as having positive effects on the effective outcome of ICT strategies include:
- Leading by example i.e. demonstrating the use and benefits of ICT in line with the strategic vision through their own practical use of ICT
- A clear communication of the vision and involvement of the wider staff in developing ICT strategy in order to ensure that ICT strategy is grounded in the practical needs of staff and encompasses all areas of the school
- A consideration of the school’s wider objectives and how the ICT strategy can help to achieve these, avoiding the development of a strategy which details ICT deployment for its own sake
- A consideration of the ‘big picture’ of strategy deployment in the school and how an ICT strategy can sit alongside and complement this.
Plenty of food for thought here to guide school leaders and others responsible for supporting or facilitting the effective use of ICTs in schools. Nothing new for those who have been working in this area for some time, but we do seem to be guilty of repeating the errors of the past, so useful to reflect on these findings at a time when so much forward planning is taking place.