Sunday, 2 October 2011

Evaluating the impact of technology integration at St Cyprians School in Cape Town

This is a guest post written by Nina Adams who is Head of ICT at St Cyprians in Cape Town. She plans, implements and manages all things ICT, from infrastructure to staff training.  She also heads up the Microsoft Innovative Schools programme which means she is responsible for researching, implementing and documenting best practice in the areas of innovation and ICT integration. St Cyprians is passionate about technology and innovation, and its impact on 21st century teaching and learning. Nina has recently evaluated their move to technology integration and has allowed us to use this post she posted on the St Cyprian’s Blog that she is responsible for maintaining - http://techblog.stcyprians.net/

In an effort to evaluate the impact of ICT integration into our school curriculum, we recently conducted an informal case study consisting of student and teacher interviews. These interviews are based on seven projects with ICT components, ranging from Grade 4 to Grade 10 students, across a range of subjects, and were conducted by a representative from SchoolNet South Africa. (All projects have been posted on our school blog.) Although our initial findings are by no means conclusive or irrefutable, the responses from students and teachers highlighted the following interesting trends:
  • Many students who usually achieve average to below average marks in ‘traditional’ projects such as essays or posters have shown significant improvement with the inclusion of an ICT component for e.g. Movie Maker or Glogster. They ascribed this to the fact that different types of projects engaged different learning styles, as not all students are good at writing or exam-taking. They also reported an overall increase in confidence and interest due to their higher marks and additional creative elements of the project.
  • Students who usually achieve relatively high marks for ‘traditional’ assessment projects, such as essays, tests or exams, reported that they found the integration of ICT quite challenging. They felt this was due to the fact that these projects often included a high degree of collaboration with students of mixed level abilities. That meant that they had to learn patience and team work, both important 21st century skills.
  • Teachers have reported that students with special learning needs also benefit from ICT tools, for e.g. Mouse Mischief, reading software tools and others. In many cases, collaborating in groups with their peers has given students the opportunity to learn from and assist each other, with some amazing results.
From the interview responses, we have learned some important lessons:
  • Technology should not be the driver: ICT integration often overemphasises the need for digital literacy skills whilst ignoring important basic skills, such as reading, writing and maths. We have found that successful ICT integration involves a balance; technology should enhance and support teaching and learning, rather than drive it.
  • Separating ICT from other subjects: In the past, ICT has usually been viewed as a separate subject, often taught in separate IT labs. Teachers have reported increased engagement and interest in their subjects by integrating ICT as a supportive mechanism or creative addition to a project, rather than as a separate learning outcome. We have also piloted mini ‘break-away’ labs in classrooms with increasing success; teachers can then access computers during class instead of booking an IT lab which often breaks the flow of a class.
  • The best project ideas are usually the simplest ideas: In the case of our award-winning Grade 4 project, students still had to complete a creative reading and writing assignment as they usually would. Then one new element was added, which in this case was the creation of a multi-media movie based on their written stories. In the case of the Grade 10 book blogs, traditional book logs simply evolved to an electronic blog version, allowing increased visibility and the ability to comment on each other’s work.
  • Some of the best ICT tools are free: Find out more under the ‘Resources’ section of the school blog.
  • Rapid technology changes: We often worry about rapid changes in technology and are therefore constantly looking ahead at the ‘next best thing’. In our experience, there is value in concentrating on what you already have and making the most of it before moving on to something new.
  • Teacher collaboration and sharing is essential for success: This can be through teacher show ‘n tell, by sharing lessons during staff meetings or by joining online learning communities. We cannot encourage 21st century skills in students if we don't practise them ourselves and we have found teacher collaboration to be a wonderful source of ideas, lesson plans and inspiration.
  • Teacher training and support is key: Professional development needs to be part of school culture. With the right training, support and encouragement, even resistant staff can be motivated to try new methods or technologies.
Here is a movie in which some of the students and a teacher at St Cyprians are interviewed about the AIDS awareness project they completed using Windows Movie Maker.

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