The Real Failure in ICT4Edu: Poor Teacher Professional Development

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I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a discussion that quickly shifts from a failing ICT for Education initiative, to the assumed root cause: “teacher technophobia”.
There is a widely held belief that education technology interventions could be successful if not for the resistance from teachers who have irrational fears of technology. Larry Cuban has written about this flawed narrative for decades.
Teachers are often blamed for failing to integrate technology into the classroom, but are those of us who are responsible for preparing teachers really equipping them to do this and how?
Might we be the point of failure, not teachers?
We know that teachers are a key part of any solution. Yet, there is less critique and analysis of professional development processes and support given to teachers to support ICT interventions.
Poor Professional Development Patterns
Here  are a few ways we fail teachers in our professional development processes:

  1. Ignoring PD Needs: Teachers are handed technology and expected to know how to integrate it into the classroom with no professional development or training.
  2. Poor PD Practices: Teachers are provided with basic orientation on a technology with very little practical application. Imagine PowerPoints and lots of talking, no doing.
  3. Limited PD Interventions: Teachers are provided with one PD session which involves practical application before an intervention begins, but there is no follow-up to understand what happened during the intervention and no other PD sessions for the remainder of the intervention.
  4. Tech-focused PD: Teachers are trained to use a specific technology which might or might not accompany content/curriculum. This is often very structured and teachers are provided a play by play of what should happen in the classroom.

Some might argue that scenario #4 is a model for success. To that, I ask, if your teachers were provided with a different piece of technology (that’s well designed), would they be able to create and facilitate a successful learning experience? If not, then you have not built their capacity to integrate technology into the classroom, only their capacity to use one tool.
If teachers appear to be “technophobic”, they often have very good reason, all of which are rational. These include:

  • Not believing in the technology or its application, because sometimes there really is no need to use technology.
  • A prior poor experience using technology in the classroom with little to no curriculum or educational support.
  • Trained to be a technology keeper/administrator versus an empowered educator, and therefore marginalized in the classroom.

Enough on our collective professional development failures. What are some solutions or approaches we can take?
Principles for Professional Development
At the Nairobi Play Project, a big focus of our initiative is designing high-quality and engaging teacher professional development. To truly build the capacity of our teachers to use technology effectively, our goal is not only to transform classroom practice, but transform how teachers approach and think about teaching, regardless of technology, because we know ICT4Edu is just an amplifier).
Based on our experiences and research others have conducted in the field, here are four principles we’ve borrowed and created to enhance our professional development.

  1. Model. We want teachers to show not tell, but that means our professional development should reflect that same practice. Limit the powerpoints and presentations. The best way to help teachers understand what good facilitation with technology looks like is to model it for them (I DO/WE DO/YOU DO). For a more immersive experience, try Japanese lesson study.
  2. Teachers are designers, not just deliverers. For technology to be an amplifier in the classroom, teachers need the skills to design the learning experience. If you are working with teachers who have only used rote learning techniques, they need to be exposed to and trained in new pedagogies which empower them to be creative, flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of their students. Good professional development equips teachers with the skills to design their own lesson plans, be creative with technology, reflective on their facilitation techniques, and leverage the interests of their students while at the same time meeting learning outcomes.
  3. Not one Tool, Any Tool. Good professional development takes a pedagogy-first approach. This goes back to the point above, have you trained your teachers to use one tool, or any tool? This also means that teachers know how to adapt a digital activity into an analog activity and achieve the same learning outcomes.
  4. Professional Development has no end, ever. Yes, there may be budget constraints, but PD cannot be designed as a “one-time thing”, otherwise it will never be effective. PD should be incremental and iterative, continuously building on new skills and responsive to teachers needs and areas for growth. Maybe that’s six face-to-face PD’s a year, monthly educator meetups, and an active Whatsapp group.

Professional development  has traditionally been neglected in the ICT for Education field not because it’s not important, but because of the classic argument that it’s too expensive and doesn’t produce enough quick wins.
Considering all the money that’s been dumped into technology without producing any wins, it’s time we act on investing in human potential as our top priority if we expect to make progress and deliver on the promise of technology’s ability to amplify real learning.
By Ariam Mogos, Founder + Global Project Lead, Nairobi Play Project
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