11 Things that make a Difference

I did post a version of this about a year ago, but my mate Bryn Jones from Perth recently revamped the “10 Things that make a Difference” list.  He recently added an 11th thing, and it’s a pretty good list, so I thought I’d repost it here for your consideration.

So, for what it’s worth, here are 11 Things that seem to make a difference in helping teachers get up to speed with using ICT.

1. Emotional Support
If you look at how teachers are using technology in schools, it ought to be pretty clear that some really “click” with it and some don’t. In fact, if you look at statistics, about 75% are just doing it because they feel they have to, and about 16% are downright obstinate about not doing it. It’s incredibly threatening to these people if they feel they are being forced to adopt technologies and work practices they really don’t understand. I found it fascinating that the number one things that teachers need in order to integrate ICT is emotional support. Sometimes, they just need to know that other folk understand how they’re feeling and will “be there for them”.

For schools, this means they really need to ensure these teachers have support and backup to ease them into this new world. This is where mailing lists, online resources and personal learning networks can be so great – they can offer constant support and a place to turn. It’s important that schools set up internal structures to support their staff.

2. A Shared Pedagogical Understanding
Having some understanding of pedagogy – the science of teaching – is an incredibly important part of being a good teacher, and really has nothing to do with technology, not directly anyway. But when we start talking about integrating technology it’s crucial to do it from a pedagogical perspective. You may have heard the saying that technology in a classroom can be used to do old things in new ways. If that’s all you use it for, you’re missing the real benefit. Technology lets you do entirely new things. Things that could not be done previously. Bunging a whole lot of computers into a school and using them to do the same sorts of things you’ve always done is a bit like strapping a jet engine onto a horse and cart. At the end of the day, it’s still a horse and cart. Having a good understanding of pedagogy lets you make informed decisions about where technology works and where it doesn’t. And when an entire school staff has the same shared vision… that’s when magic happens!

3. A Constructivist Philosophy
Constructivism, in a nutshell, says that if you create the right learning environment then students will build (or construct) knowledge and learning for themselves. Constructivism takes the focus off “teaching” and places it on “learning”. It sometimes means teachers have to take their hands off the controls, let go a little, and realise that the best kind of learning happens when students work things out for themselves and not always when they get “taught”. You may have heard the phrase, “I taught them, but they just didn’t learn!”
Computers and communication technologies are amazing tools for moving the centre of power in a classroom over to the students, and this is a really hard thing for many teachers to get to grips with. As teachers, we are used to “controlling the class”, having “good discipline”, and calling the shots.
In many ways, constructivism turns all of that on its head. When you introduce technology into a classroom, you suddenly invite your students to learn at different rates, about different ideas, catering to different interests and abilities. These are good things, but it certainly changes the balance of power in the classroom.

If you understand something about Constructivism, you realise this can be a great thing, but if you don’t, it’s pretty scary. That’s why adding computers to schools without developing teachers’ ability to change the things they do simply doesn’t work.

4. At Least Four Computers per Classroom
(Or more generally – proximity of computers to learning areas) Not two. Not three. According to research, you need at least 4 computers in a learning area before you start to see a change in the way technology affects learning. This is probably more applicable to Primary classrooms than Secondary, but I found it an interesting statistic.

The bottom line is that unless you can get access to technology, it’s obviously not going to have an effect. It’s all about ubiquity of technology within a school – kids (and teachers) need to be able to get their hands on it if it’s going to have any impact.

5. Help to Access Appropriate Material
The keyword here is “help”. Sure, teachers need to be able to get their hands on the right resources. But if they don’t know how to do it for themselves, they’ll always need help. You can give them a fish, or you can teach them to fish. I know what I’d prefer.

6. Just-in-Time Technical and Skills Support
Related to Point 1, this is not just about emotional support but real, hands-on support. Having someone to turn to when you need ideas and answers. Having someone to actually come and give you a hand, show you what to do, tell you what button you need to press, whatever it takes to give you what you need.

7. Reliable Infrastructure
If you want to kill off whatever enthusiasm exists in your school for using ICT, just rev up a teacher with grand stories of what technology can do in their lessons, about how it can enthuse the kids and lead to whole new paradigms of education, and send them into a classroom where the Internet connection drops out at the crucial moment. Or the mice don’t work.  Or the machines freeze regularly. Guarantee they won’t back to try again in a hurry.

Schools really have to ensure that everything works, all the time. Not most of the time; all of the time. Everywhere, for everyone. Until you have that, it’s an awful hard slog to build excitement about the joys of technology.

8. Access to Professional Development, but not necessarily participating in it
It’s the last bit of that which intrigues me. Research found that if you want teachers to get on the technology bandwagon they had to have access to PD, which makes sense. But they don’t want to be forced to participate in it. Sort of like a safety net. I know when we run PD for teachers, they like to be able to focus on the things they need, and not get bogged down in the things they don’t need. Break PD into a smorgasbord of pick-and-choose modules, so people can pick the bits they need, and feel empowered by the bits they already know.

9. Links to School from Home
If you can think of a better way to do this other than through the use of the Internet and ICT, let us know. It’s all part of the move to gain anyplace, anytime learning. Why should the school day stop at 3:30? (well, maybe for teachers that’s a good thing, but why for kids?) The school and the home, and in fact the whole community, why shouldn’t there be a blurring of the boundaries between these. There isn’t much point working with ICT on projects at school if you can’t continue with them from home.

10. Leadership
You must have known this one was coming eventually. Putting ICT to work in a school requires leadership and vision. It takes someone to stand out the front and say “We’re going this way! Follow me!” Without that shared vision, it always comes down to a couple of keen individuals who push the technology barrow, but for a systematic change to sweep through a school it takes leadership. Lots of it.

11. Flexible Learning Spaces
Since this article was written a few years ago, Flexible Learning Spaces has emerged as another critical factor. Are there areas for large groups, small groups, noisy groups, quiet groups? Can students find somewhere to rehearse presentations, make films? Can a large piece of work such as a claymation or time lapse photography project or science experiment be left in place over several periods without disturbance.

So, what do you think…  does this list of factors (which were originally shared way back in 2002) still hold up five years later?  Has anything really changed?  What else, if anything, are the other factors that make a difference to teachers with regard to ICT

CC BY-SA 4.0 11 Things that make a Difference by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

9 Replies to “11 Things that make a Difference”

  1. One thing that makes a difference is for the teacher to understand how students think. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better” on amazon.

  2. Thanks Sanford… Nice plug for your book! 😉 Given that many people may not take the time and trouble to go hunting for that book in Amazon, can you give us a brief summary of your key points?

    What are the key things that teachers need to grapple with in order to “understand how students think”? Do you believe that most teachers do this already, or not? Why?

  3. Thanks for the timely list Chris – I am doing a presentation about leading professional learning next week and your comments about PD in particular were ringing true for me – unless it has meaning and connection for teachers they are not likely to embrace the PD offerings.
    I am planning to link to your blog in the presentation so thanks so much for your ideas…
    Much appreciated…
    Have you checked out Gever Tully on TED talks – 5 dangerous things you should let children do…it was that video I was working with when I saw your new blog entry…I think you would like it…

    Thanks again

  4. Thanks Judy. By all means, link to the blog and I hope you and your readers get something out of it. You’re right about PD I think… it will never have any real and lasting meaning until it becomes real for the participants… they need to really want the information offered to them and if they aren’t yet ready for it then it stands a much lesser chance of success. Just in time learning works the same for adults as it does for kids… I’m amazed that we still think that we need to teach kids all sorts of useless stuff “just in case”.

    As for the Tully video, yes it’s a good one. I did actually blog in response to it back in January… http://betch.edublogs.org/2008/01/09/wrapped-in-cotton-wool/

    But thanks for making me revisit it, i had forgotten about it. 🙂


  5. A comprehensive list, but I would also add teachers’ attitudes and perceptions, encompassing their willingness to take risks, their positive attitude and their level of confidence and self-efficacy.

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