Not just a lot of old Tosh

July 14, 1995

Christina Preston on a ground-breaking in-service training alliance between teachers and industry.

Most teachers have had few first degree opportunities to learn the skills or explore the implications of computers and communications. Some innovative strategies are required to train the profession. Toshiba scholarships are addressing this need.

The first Toshiba scholarships were advertised in September 1994. School and college teachers were asked to submit a five-year plan for introducing laptop computers into their institution's activities. Each scholarship winner is offered a place on an online course in computer-mediated communications run by the Institute of Education, London University.

Support, training and advice are given to help scholars investigate opportunities for mobile computing in their institutions, record the experience of using the technology in their professional lives, and design new online courses for their fellow teachers. Each scholar is given a Toshiba 486 colour mobile PC with an internal modem and Microsoft software. Maintenance and service contracts have been agreed with XMA dealers.

The scholarships have been developed by Toshiba in partnership with the Institute of Education's Project Miranda. The project focuses on the development of innovative strategies for training teachers in information and communication technology, and the use of computers as a catalyst in changing teaching and learning methodology. Advisors to the scheme include The National Council for Educational Technology, and Campus 2000 with its decade of experience in networked teaching and learning in schools.

Early indications are that mobile computers have raised the morale of teachers in the face of new technology. The machines' reliability and ease of use have increased their confidence. The modem is an unexpected bonus. One school has found that giving teachers portables to take home has enabled them to identify their training needs more quickly. Taking a machine home gives them private time to experiment and reflect.

Not being tied to the location of the school's networked machines has improved productivity. Teachers have found it easier to make full use of administrative systems because they no longer need to find time on the staff room workhorse to familiarise themselves with the software.

An untethered machine allows teachers to make notes as they circulate around the class. First notes are rougher than handwritten notes, but the final report is achieved in less time. This has been a bonus for continuous assessment, monitoring and profiling. In discipline panels, one deputy head uses the mobile computer to record agreements made with the students. Students can then leave for home with a precise record of what has been said.

Staff meeting records have also been changed. Minute takers found that they could not type as much as they could handwrite. This led to a discussion about what kind of reporting was really required. Instead of minutes, staff meetings and working groups now circulate agreed outcomes which they find more focussed and productive.

The benefit of the modem is clearest in the context of professional development. Heads are not keen to give time for long-term inservice training if this involves travel and days off timetable. Computer conferencing and email offer the advantages of interactive support from tutors and other teachers, from school or home. Teachers with heavy family responsibilitites are finding this helpful.

The 1995 scholarship winners come from four contrasting school environments. David Litchfield school in Norton near Stockton-on-Tees reaches out to the community, offering intellectual challenge to students of all ages despite the problems in the area. Link-ups like an environmental project with a Kenyan school have made both pupils and staff feel empowered as global citizens. Staff are using their mobile computer with special software to develop children's skills in writing English. They are also exploring new approaches to learning and teaching, assessment and monitoring and the role of the teacher as manager. More funds for mobile computers have been raised from Stockton City Challenge.

Ben Franklin is developing the special needs programme at The Plume School, Essex, a popular grant maintained school in a rural area. Staff involved in "statementing" students with special needs have taken a laptop machine to case meetings with county officials, where the machine can provide in-depth information about the student concerned. A Plume School climbing team in the Himalayas will be using mobile computers to send reports back to Campus 2000 subscribers.

Tolworth Girls' School in South London, strong on intellectual challenge, is proud of its strong links with home, local industry, parents and initial teacher training institutions. The Technical and Vocational Education Initiative programme in the school has resulted in a high percentage of computer literate staff, who have gone on to master computer conferencing and on-line course delivery. Melanie Gowans and Susan Heightman have used their Toshiba mobile computers in a scheme where experienced members of staff act as mentors to colleagues less confident with technology. They also use email and computer conferencing to partner student teachers at six local colleges.

John Potter is one of the two information technology coordinators at Harbinger, a primary school in the London Docklands. Harbinger has a ten-year-old network of RM 186 machines, though it gained some more modern computers when it joined NCET Integrated Learning System trials.

John is keen to further his knowledge now that he has a more powerful computer. He has chosen to convert his scholarship fees towards a computer-mediated communications module of an MSc at the Institute of Education. Many teachers are now funding their own professional development but this is hard for John as he has a young family. The school has offered him some help with funding the rest of his MSc modules. He is planning to approach industry for support. At school, one of his ideas is to see how a go-anywhere computer can assist teachers in assessing a child's level of achievement.

The Toshiba scholarships will continue to make a practical difference to teachers who want to learn on the information superhighway. The first four Toshiba scholars are participating in a writing week to record their observations and experiences and to design on-line courses for development at the Institute.

Toshiba and NCET have committed funding for another year of research, development and dissemination. Next year's research programme will include the deployment of mobile computers with internal CD-Rom drives, and some experiments with faster network connections allowing multimedia communication. Industrial partners include Microsoft, BT Education, BT Research and Development, Campus 2000, the BBC Networking Club, XMA and Epson. Educators from Holland, France, Chile, Norway and the Czech Republic have expressed interest in establishing similar scholarship schemes.

Professional organisations including the Authors Licensing and Copyright Society, the Copyright Licensing Agency, the British Council, the Confederation of British Industry, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and the Women into Information Technology Foundation are contributing their advice.

The high level of teacher applicants for Toshiba scholarships is mirroring an international enthusiasm for the potential of telematics as the millennium approaches. Agreement is rife. As Secretary of State for Education Gillian Shephard launched a consultation exercise on the development of broad band technology; last Friday was the closing date for responses. The Department for Trade and Industry has its own network initiative for schools. The Welsh Office also plans a school link-up. The Labour has assembled steering groups to reflect on the information superhighway, which delivers its report on Tuesday. One of its members, the film director David Puttnam, also sat on the Government's Technology Foresight panel on leisure and learning.

Labour party policy statements have been concerned with with universal access to the superhighway, and the changing role of the teacher. The Liberal Democrats think that developing the communications superhighway in the 21st century will be as important as the building of railways and roads in the past two centuries.

Teachers and industrialists working in the Toshiba scholarship programme had no trouble in agreeing on some radical solutions. Government and local communities were called on to fund a national electronic infrastructure in which every citizen had an equal share. This network, with full broadcasting features, should be as easy to use and as widely available as the telephone. Educators should be encouraged to develop materials for these new media that make use of the best techniques employed by the entertainment industry so that an on-line lifelong education programme would be as compelling as the entertainment media. All teachers should be resourced. Tax advantages should be offered to teachers who invest in mobile computing. Teachers should be educated to use the new technologies to enrich teaching and learning. There was a significant emphasis on quality, investment in people, effective monitoring and evaluation of investment. Dissemination of good practice was thought to be critical.

Industrialists and teachers involved with the Toshiba scholarships were also clear that it was too late for the luxury of small pilot schemes.

Christina Preston is one of the directors of Project Miranda at the Institute of Education, London University. She has just published the 21st Century A-Z Literacy Handbook.

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