Training Informatics Teachers in Managing ICT Facilities in Schools

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In this paper we describe and analyse the results of a training project for 3.200 informatics teachers in Greece. The purpose of the project was to provide new knowledge on ICT to informatics teachers, to help them keep abreast of rapid technological evolution and to enhance their ability to manage school ICT facilities. The training methodology was based on a blended learning approach combining traditional classroom-based approaches with ICT-supported distance learning methods. It included workshops, seminars, in-school practical training, online support and synchronous tele-training. Based on data gathered during and after the training process, a study was conducted in order to assess the overall impact of the project. The investigation focused primarily on identifying teachers’ perceptions about each one of the different components of the blended learning methodology and on assessing the level of satisfaction from their participation in the training courses.

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Training Informatics Teachers in Managing ICT Facilities in Schools

  1. 1. Training Informatics Teachers in Managing ICT Facilities in Schools 1 Charalambos Tsaknakis, 2Charalambos Mouzakis, 2Chrysanthi Tziortzioti 1 Research Academic Computer Technology Institute, Greece 2 Ministry of National and Religious Affairs, Greece tsaknak@cti.gr, hmouzak@primedu.uoa.gr, chtziortzioti@ypepth.gr Abstract: In this paper we describe and analyse the results of a training project for 3.200 informatics teachers in Greece. The purpose of the project was to provide new knowledge on ICT to informatics teachers, to help them keep abreast of rapid technological evolution and to enhance their ability to manage school ICT facilities. The training methodology was based on a blended learning approach combining traditional classroom-based approaches with ICT-supported distance learning methods. It included workshops, seminars, in-school practical training, online support and synchronous tele-training. Based on data gathered during and after the training process, a study was conducted in order to assess the overall impact of the project. The investigation focused primarily on identifying teachers’ perceptions about each one of the different components of the blended learning methodology and on assessing the level of satisfaction from their participation in the training courses. Introduction The enrichment of scientific knowledge and didactic skills in all disciplines is a basic prerequisite for school teachers seeking to improve the quality of their work (Hellmig, 2008; Borko, 2004). Needless to say, such a task is even more demanding for informatics teachers; indeed, knowledge and skills in their domain must be continuously updated to catch up with the rapid advancements in information and communication technologies (Mackey, 2008). In this framework, the provision of continuous and effective training to informatics teachers that would allow them to keep abreast of technological evolution and to better perform their teaching duties is a delicate and challenging issue requiring special attention from educational authorities. In the past few years, practices of blended learning that combine traditional methods (e.g. classroom, computer lab, etc.) with synchronous or asynchronous ICT-supported distance learning methods have attracted considerable attention from the scientific and educational community and have shown significant potential in a variety of practical situations (Rovai & Jordan 2004). The literature on this subject contains a large number of articles devoted to the description and evaluation of innovative programs based on blended learning methods used in teacher training in all disciplines (Wideman, Owston, & Sinitskaya, 2007). Some advantages of blended learning over purely traditional methods have already been identified and documented in the literature: Independence from space and time limitations, adaptability to the learning needs and pace of any trainee, ability to continuously and easily update the educational material, opportunities for personal contact and interaction with trainers, ability to activate multiple routes of communication between the trainer and the trainee, both synchronously and asynchronously, to cope with a variety of practical issues and problems that each teacher faces in his/her work environment, etc. (Sinclair & Owston, 2006; Holmes, Polhemus & Jennings, 2005). Currently, some issues under investigation on blended learning methodologies are: customization and adaptation to different training requirements, optimal utilization of the functionalities and capabilities of learning environments, case studies for identification and avoidance of weaknesses, methods for effectiveness evaluation, etc. It is pointed out that despite the constantly increasing interest in the development of teacher training programs based on blended learning methodologies, there is, so far, a very limited number of references on training programs specifically addressing the needs of informatics teachers (Hadjerrouit , 2008). In Greece, teacher training programs are basically provided by the Regional Training Centers (Greek initials: PEK) which operate under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs (Greek initials: YPEPTH). The main function of these centers in regard to ICT education is the provision of introductory computer science courses to newly appointed teachers. Apart from this, several specific training programs funded by national and European funds have been implemented in the past few years (by authorized publicly funded agencies) aiming at the familiarization of teachers with new technologies and the acquisition of basic skills in the utilization of ICT in education (Hlapanis, Kordaki, & Dimitrakopoulou, 2006). The experience gained from the implementation of such training programs indicate that despite their contribution and significance in training to basic ICT skills, they were not sufficient to cover all the needs of the Greek informatics teachers (Papadakis & Ahtanashopoulos, 2005;
  2. 2. Vosniadou & Kollias 2001). In order to enhance the effectiveness of such programs for the improvement of the scientific, cognitive and pedagogic potential of informatics teachers in Greece, the educational and scientific community has proposed the creation of permanent training structures and the development of e-learning communities encompassing flexible and large scale ICT supported distance learning systems. The task of continuously improving the knowledge of informatics teachers has become even more imperative due to the fact that they have been assigned the role of administering the School Informatics & Computer Applications Labs (Greek initials: SEPEHY) in addition to their teaching duties in secondary education. So, each SEPEHY (usually, there is one in each school) has one informatics teacher as administrator. In that role, informatics teachers are responsible for the operation of school computer labs not only for the course of informatics but also for other courses that require the use of computers (SEPEHY Regulations of Operation, 2005). In order to help them cope with the additional requirements, YPEPTH designed and launched a project for providing to them practical training in the utilization and technical support of school computer labs. This project was co-financed by the EC. The training was conducted during 2008 using a blended learning methodology and addressed about 3.200 informatics teachers. The project was assigned by YPEPTH through a tendering procedure to the Research Academic Computer Technology institute (RACTI). RACTI implemented the project in cooperation with 11 Higher Education Institutions of the country. Training courses The goal of the project, entitled “Practical Training of Informatics Teachers”, was to provide new knowledge on ICT to 3.200 informatics teachers (SEPEHY administrators) as well as to senior personnel of the Centers for Informatics & New Technologies (Greek initials: KEPLHNET). In particular, the courses offered to SEPEHY administrators included practical issues on how to conduct basic everyday administration and maintenance work of the computer infrastructure in their schools. For the senior personnel of KEPLHNET, the courses focused more on analyzing best practices for the organization of technical support of educational ICT infrastructures of large geographical regions, each containing many school units. The latter courses also covered issues related to the organization and provision of direct support to SEPEHY administrators. The following training models were used: • Information Day / Workshop. This was a 7-hour seminar including presentations by specialized experts in three domains: (i) Architecture of the school computer lab, (ii) Services of the Panhellenic School Network (a network connecting all schools and administrative units of education throughout Greece) and (iii) Procedures for technical support of school ICT infrastructure. • In-school practice. A 4-hour on-site training by specialized experts on how to best utilize the local services of the computer lab and the Panhellenic School Network, the identification of problems and procedures for their solution, troubleshooting and the systematic support work. This was a personalized training course addressing the specific needs of each teacher and school. • Online training. A 4-hour tele-training session using the platforms E-VO, E-teaching and Click-to-Meet. The trainees were connecting to the Internet at a pre-specified time to attend the presentation of the educational material by the trainers. During each session, the trainees were instructed how to utilize the applications and how to solve problems. They could also submit questions to the trainers, in writing or orally. Overall, there were organized 86 workshops, 3005 on-site visits and 324 tele-training sessions with a total of 4.048 participants. The workshops took place in the capital cities of the regions where the Offices of Secondary Education are located. During the entire training period, a helpdesk was continuously operating providing support to informatics teachers throughout the country on all issues and problems related to the operation and support of school computer labs. The educational material that was created for the purposes of this project has been posted on the Internet and is available to all informatics teachers.
  3. 3. Figure 1. The interface of the platform E-VO Methodology of the Study Sample Of all the 1270 participants who responded to the questions, 562 (60.0%) were male and 508 (40.0%) were female teachers. The age groups were 18-30 (n=173, 13.6%), 31-40 (n=639, 50.3%), 41-50 (n=400, 31.5%) and 50 or over (n=58, 4.6%). More than half of the respondents (n=732, 57.6%) reported that they already had more than 4 years of teaching experience in secondary education labs. Instrumentation A study was conducted after the end of the project to assess the results and to identify issues and problems that need to be further investigated. The purpose of the study is to help YPEPTH improve the design of future training projects for informatics teachers. As a research instrument for the study, an on-line questionnaire was used containing 5-point Likert scaled items ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree) and open-ended questions. The development of the questionnaire was based on established methods used for the evaluation of training courses (Kirkpatrick, 1998) and, also, on well-validated instruments used to assess the effectiveness of distance learning courses (Walker, 2002; Biner, 1993). It has sections on teachers’ demographics (section A), 39- Likert scaled items assessing effectiveness of blended learning (section B) and two open-ended questions (section C). Item and factor analysis were conducted for the evaluation of the reliability and validity of the data received (answers to the questionnaire). In terms of item analysis, the data of Section B were analysed for internal consistency and reliability and the Chronbach’s alpha (a) coefficient was calculated based on 1.270 responses to the questionnaire. This coefficient was found equal to 0.95, which significantly exceeds the minimum acceptable 0.80, as suggested in the research literature (Kaplan, & Sacusso, 1993). The construct validity of Section B of the questionnaire was investigated using principal component factor analysis with varimax rotation and Kaiser normalization. The factor analysis for 33-items of the questionnaire (out of 39) yielded five distinct scales. These scales explain 62% of the variance in the dataset and they were interpreted as Workshop, In-labs practice, Online learning, Trainer’s presence, and Technology. In addition to these scales, an attitudinal scale of Enjoyment was included. The latter scale consists of 6 items measuring teacher satisfaction with the blended learning environment (Fraser, 1998). Thus, the questionnaire contained 39 items organized into 6 scales.
  4. 4. As far as the data analysis method is concerned, descriptive statistics methods were used for the quantitative data (Section A and Section B of the questionnaire) and a content analysis method was used for the qualitative data (open-ended questions of Section C). Analysis of the Results The teachers’ perceptions were organized around the five main scales of the questionnaire and the scale of satisfaction. The first research question focused on identifying teachers’ perceptions on the main aspects of the blended learning environment. The results obtained from the second section of the questionnaire are presented in Table 1 below. The measure of the perception of each of the scales is reflected by the sum of the coded responses for the items associated with each scale, divided by the number of items. Table 1. Mean Scores and Standard Deviation of the five main scales Scales N Mean St. Dev. 1 Workshop 1270 3.58 0.667 2 In-labs practice 1270 3.66 0.676 4 Online learning 1270 3.05 0.774 3 Trainer’s presence 1270 4,03 0.676 5 Technology 1270 3.33 0.698 The results showed in Table 1, indicate that the In-labs practice (M=3.66, SD=0.676) has reached the highest mean value, followed by the scales of Workshop (M=3.58, SD=0.667). The scales of Technology and Online learning have reached lower mean values (M=3.33, SD=0.698 and M=3.05, SD=0.774 respectively). These results reveal that teachers tended to be more positive toward face-to-face training as compared to all the other components of the blended learning course. The results of Table 1 indicate that the trainees have a very positive attitude toward the physical presence of the trainers during the implementation of the project (M=4.03, SD=0.676). As far as the open-ended questions are concerned, the trainees could freely respond to them stating their remarks, what they liked and what they did not like in the training process, etc. They could also write their suggestions as to what could be possibly done to improve such an educational program in the future. In regard to the quality of the trainers, the most frequent answers obtained from the respondent trainees can be categorized as follows: • They have pedagogical and technical expertise and they are up to date on their domain of expertise (280 answers). • They were well prepared and friendly (205 answers). • They were explaining in depth the topics they presented (151 answers). • They were willing to listen to the questions of the trainees (144 answers). • They were cooperative and supportive to all trainees (136 answers). In regard to the content of the workshop and the in-lab training, the trainees responded that their needs were covered to a large extent for all the subjects of the training. They also expressed suggestions for improvement that can be categorized as follows: • Longer training program, giving more emphasis on the practical issues of the School Informatics & Computer Applications Labs (SEPEHY) (213 answers). • Higher flexibility in the course content. Ability of the trainees to select some of the topics addressing their particular problems (183 answers). • More time devoted to on-site training with a focus on the particular problems encountered in each school computer lab (145 answers). • The entire educational material should be made available to the trainees before the start of the training process, so as to allow them to study the subjects in advance and to identify potential issues where they need more elaboration (131 answers). • Provision of the educational material in printed form in addition to electronic (90 answers). Παροχή του εκπαιδευτικού υλικού και σε έντυπη μορφή (90 απαντήσεις). As far as the tele-training is concerned, the trainees were mostly skeptical or neutral expressing concern about its effectiveness. The answers indicate significant technological problems, the most frequent ones being the sound delays and the lack of synchronization between image and sound during the videoconferencing sessions. The
  5. 5. trainees also gave suggestions for the improvement of the tele-training process the most frequent of which are the following: • Improvement of technological infrastructure, such as: support for Linux server, higher screen resolution of the trainer, modernization of school computer labs, broadband connections (183 answers), • More time is needed for the preparation of the trainees, particularly, for familiarization with the tele-training platform (103 answers), • Fewer trainees per session, to allow better interaction between them and the trainer (96 answers), • The duration of each session should be shorter than 4 hours, to avoid fatigue (54 answers) • Creation of a chat forum for exchange of information and interaction among trainees (50 answers), • Course material should be made available on the Internet for off-line access by the trainees at their discretion. Also, tele-training sessions should take place after regular school timetable (287 answers). The second research question focused on the assessment of the overall satisfaction from blended learning courses. The results regarding Enjoyment are derived from the structured part of the questionnaire and are presented in Table 2 below. Table 2. Mean Scores and Standard Deviation of the Items in the Scale of Enjoyment Item N Mean St. Dev. I prefer to participate in blended learning courses than in classroom 1 1270 3.85 1.024 based courses 2 Blended learning is an interesting experience 1270 3.90 0.9115 3 This continuous education course was worth my time 1270 4.35 0.9903 4 I am satisfied with this continuous education course 1270 3.59 0.957 5 I look forward to participate in similar courses in the future 1270 3.79 1.041 6 I enjoy to participate in blended learning courses 1270 3.61 0.929 According to the data of Table 2, most trainees stated that their participation in the program was worth their time and that it was an overall interesting educational experience. They also expressed a positive attitude toward training programs based on blended learning methods compared with more traditional methods. Finally, they expressed desire to participate in similar training programs in the future. Conclusion The study has shown that the practical training program covered the requirements of the informatics teachers to a considerable extent. Most of the trainees had a positive impression about the trainers, particularly, about their pedagogic and technical expertise, their level of preparation and their willingness to listen and help. The combination of on-site training and tele-training seems to have had a positive impact on the trainees, as they can simultaneously reap the benefits of face-to-face communication and distance learning. It appears though that the teachers tend to be more positive toward face-to-face training as compared to other forms of training based on seminars and videoconference. They would like more on-site training with more educational material and the capability for more practical hands-on experience under the direct supervision of the on-site trainer. Furthermore, they express a desire for an enhancement of the educational material with practical issues that could help them face problems during their work in the computer lab. They also consider that a longer training period and the provision of the educational material in printed form would make the program more effective. As far as technology is concerned, the improvement of technological infrastructure is considered as a very important factor for the success of the tele-training courses. Other factors that would contribute to the improvement of the effectiveness of tele-training, according to the views of the teachers, are: familiarization of the teachers with the videoconference platforms, smaller number of trainees per session, shorter than 4 hours duration of each session, availability of the educational material on the Internet for off-line access. Acknowledgments We would like to express our thanks to all the teachers who participated in the study. We would also like to thank Mrs. E. Stergatou and Mr. M. Paraskevas for their valuable assistance in collecting and processing the data for this study.
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