The use of virtual classrooms for school improvement
Paper presented at BELMAS Annual conference, Newport Pagnell, October 2001
Leeds Metropolitan University
Leeds LS6 3QS
ICT is currently used in schools to assist pupils to learn more effectively by providing teachers with access to a wide range of new pedagogy. It is also used to enable staff to do administrative tasks more efficiently. This paper will outline a new sort of use for ICT that offers something entirely different. It enables pupils to show teachers how to improve teaching and, in doing this, it enables pupils to have more informed and more profitable access to teachers' knowledge and skills. The author makes the case that this may represent a quantum leap in school effectiveness.
This paper first explains what virtual discussions are and hence what virtual classrooms are. It then explains the need for teachers to have data about their pupils in order to assist them to learn effectively. Four concepts of school improvement are then examined and self-evaluation is selected as the model that is most appropriate. The case is then made for listening to pupils as a method of improving teaching and learning. The conventional uses of ICT in classrooms are explored to reveal only two main types of use that do not include investigating the pupils' view of education. Proposals are made for pupil consultation and a mechanism is suggested.
Discussions in virtual space and time
Virtual "discussion" rooms are used for many purposes. A discussion room enables participants to discuss asynchronously, that is they do not all have to be at a computer at the same time. Such a discussion can consist of many contributions spread over a week, a fortnight or even longer. Where synchronous discussion is possible, the facility is called a "chat" room. In this case, all participants log on at the same time and can read contributions as they are made.
Beneficial uses of virtual discussions
Virtual discussions can have beneficial uses in education. For instance, teachers responsible for numeracy in a primary school, or heads of mathematics departments in secondary schools, can enter discussion rooms with colleagues across the country and indeed, across the world, whom they could never meet. In the discussion room they can share teaching ideas and develop materials without ever straying from the home or classroom. In this way discussion rooms are communication tools that can ease the burden on teachers by providing a virtual support group of colleagues. They can also be used to enable pupils to discuss curriculum material. In the less populated areas of the world; parts of Australia, or Argyll and Bute, for instance; these virtual schools are the only way in which a reasonably sized group of pupils of a similar age can be convened to share ideas. In this way discussion rooms are used as curriculum tools. Some discussion rooms are virtual bars; some are virtual seminars; some virtual business meetings. This paper is about virtual classrooms, that is, a discussion room accessible by all, but only by, members of a real class in a real school. Its purpose relates to the data that teachers need about the pupils whom they teach as I will explain below.
The need for data about pupils for effective teaching
At the beginning of teaching practice it is common for the trainee to be so consumed with anxiety about his or her pedagogy that the pupils are almost ignored. The realisation that teaching and learning are separate activities, loosely connected, is a revelation to such trainees. To assist effective learning to take place, the teacher needs to know several sorts of things about each pupil:
What they already know
What they already can do
What they have learned during the lesson
What helps and hinders their learning
An early step on the way to knowing these things or anything else about a pupil is that the teacher knows the pupils' names. Without this knowledge, no other knowledge can be connected to the pupil. If books are marked, the marks cannot be related to the real pupil unless the name linking the pupil to the book is known and attached to the pupil in the teacher's mind. Discussion with colleagues can only be helpful if the teacher knows what the pupil of that name looks like.
What is involved in knowing the pupil
It is common, initially, for those trying to remember many names to try to link the name to some physical characteristic of the pupil; hair colour, appearance, habit. If a note about this link is entered in the mark book, the teacher feels embarrassed if the pupil sees it. This is because even the least sensitive teacher understands that any pupil identified by external characteristics will be upset that the teacher does not know him or her better than that. What is inside the pupil (or any of us) is important than our physical appearance. It is common for us to be able to describe the physical appearance of brief acquaintances but not of close friends. Our minds identify them by deeper, more significant, qualities; for instance, how they express themselves, what they think about issues that affect us both.
The benefit of a discussion room is that physical characteristics are unimportant and participants are able to expose their ideas to scrutiny without physical labels attached. The use of discussion rooms can assist the teacher to know more, to access more data, about each pupil. Moreover, the data may be selectively that which is more relevant to their learning than the data that is gathered during interactions in the real classroom.
Conceptual context of school improvement
There are, at present four main drivers for school improvement. First, the whole school approach exemplified by Success for All and the High Reliability Schools movement. For a commentary on how whole school initiatives, designed by the best minds in instruction and sold only to welcoming schools, see Pogrow, (1998), and Flecknoe & Saeidi, (1999:17)
A schoolwide initiative, initiated from the research of others cannot, on its own be sufficient to ensure progress towards effectiveness. The individual teachers must engage their critical faculties and begin to inquire into effective teaching,
These initiatives live up to their expectations, if at all, for short periods, or in schools which benefit from stable leadership at all levels for a period of time.
The second driver is the teacher-as-technician approach exemplified by the well researched work of Reynolds, for instance Muijs & Reynolds, (2000). Remarkably few teaching techniques are well researched however, compared with the huge number of decisions that a teacher makes during the course of a working day. Influencing these decisions requires more than an occasional reminder of research that needs critical reading to determine whether it relates to a teacher's professional context.
Thirdly, inspection. This has some potential but see Smith, (2000) for a commentary on its effectiveness.
Fourthly, self-evaluation. This technique is in its early conceptualisation and the most readable book by far is MacBeath, Schratz, Meuret, & Jakobson, (2000). What is proposed in this paper is an extension of this technique.
The case for listening to pupils and parents
Clarke & Fielding, (2001) discuss how three schools overcame the traditional relationship in which:
Students often experience complete alienation in the classroom from those decision making processes which can govern their daily lives throughout their entire school careers, being as they are, at the bottom of a long established hierarchy.
The transition that Clarke and Fielding are talking about can be compared to the transition from pupil-as-tourist to pupil-as-citizen. Tourists are out to exploit the local environment for a short time, they have no hand in governance or decision-making except through complaining occasionally and hoping for improvement. The have no investment in the society in which they vacation. Citizens do have a stake because they also have a voice. Theirs is not a passing sampling of resources but an interest in the benefit to themselves and to other citizens. The role of the teacher can also change at the same time from that of tour guide/gaoler to that of civil servant in the new society.
These two omissions: student voice, and school as a community [not as an organization], represent two significant weaknesses in the pathology of effectiveness, a lack of attention to voice, and an over emphasis on structure and outcome ...Quite simply, if you think that you have the answer, why listen to any alternatives? p 4
The last question that they ask here is a crucial one. Our belief as teachers that we know what is good for pupils stands in our way of learning. What has held back the advance of civilisation more than anything else has not been ignorance, but our confidence in our knowledge. Once we, as teachers, acknowledge that pupils have a unique and valid point of view, inaccessible from other sources, we have the beginnings of the next step to school improvement.
More commentators are reflecting on the contribution that pupils can make to school improvement by unlocking their tacit knowledge about teaching and learning and making it available to teachers. (Arnot, Reay, Flutter, & Wang, 2001); (Clarke & Fielding, 2001); (Doddington, Flutter, & Rudduck, 2000); (MacBeath, Demetriou, & Myers, 2001); (McCallum, Hargreaves, & Gipps, 2000); (Macbeath & Mortimore, 2001); (MacGilchrist, 2000); (Lewis, 2001); and (Senge, et al., 2000) all comment on this aspect of the value of pupil's thoughts. Pupils of all ages are shown to be able to contribute constructively to debates about teaching and learning and to matters of governance. The principle underlying all these authors is that the ontology of pupils is different from the ontology of teachers and that access to its vision will facilitate communication and the sharing of wisdom.
The probem of how to access these thoughts is significant. MacBeath, Boyd, Rand, & Bell, (1996) discuss the reasons advanced by some Scottish teachers for not consulting pupils and parents in order to give voice to their unique and valuable view of school improvement. There were three kinds of arguments against asking parents and pupils their views of a school
Disaffected pupils will see this as a good opportunity to be abusive and destructive
Parents don't know about the school, and pupils have a very limited and egocentric view
We already know what parents and pupils think about the school
Most teachers' objections were shown to be unfounded (fewer than 0.1 percent of comments were abusive). It is difficult to believe, in principle, that there is something that one does not know that clients do know and this is a common difficulty in, for instance, marketing. Suppliers of innovative goods and services (Walkmans, Game Boys, any new technology in its first flush) can, to some extent, tell the customer what s/he wants because the customer has no relevant experience. Once, however, the customer becomes sophisticated, the supplier needs to monitor what the customer likes in order to remain competitive. TESCO (but not M&S), has developed EPOS (electronic point of sale). This is a way of finding out in detail what is being bought and buying more of it in. Schools are marketing a product (education) with which most consumers feel very familiar. They have opinions that repay study. It is not just in Scotland that teachers think the pupil and parent has nothing to contribute to the design of pedagogy. It is not just in Scotland that they are mistaken.
The insight that pupils have is not restricted to secondary age pupils. McCallum, Hargreaves, & Gipps, (2000) give examples of insights from the voices of pupils in Key Stages 1 and 2; six and ten years olds. Year 2 pupils (six years olds) described how they learned to be patient, to settle arguments, not to be too noisy, not to show off too much, how to be safe physically, how to talk, and how other people behave. The pupils in both years discussed the contribution to learning of thinking, visualising, remembering, memorising, talking and asking, listening, doing and handling, observing, reading, and practising. Pupils of all ages seem to have valuable insights into their own learning; what assists, and what hinders it.
MacBeath, Demetriou, & Myers, (2001) say about the pupil opinions that they worked with:
The importance of listening to pupils has been double underlined by the experience of the participating schools, in some cases exceeding our expectations of what children can do and what teachers can do to provide the climate for that to happen.
What is remarkable is how we have ever tried to improve schools without enrolling pupils as co-workers and researchers.
Doddington, Flutter, & Rudduck, (2000) discuss three aspects of pupil viewpoint that can improve the educational service provided by schools:
Pupils helping other pupils
Catching up and keeping up
Creating a positive learning culture
But found that collecting information from pupils can be painstaking and difficult. [Flecknoe, 2001 #220] describes the evaluation of a Gifted and Talented Initiative using pupils in the school to gather, analyse, and synthesise data. In this case the school used pupils as researchers in a relatively economical way that benefited the pupils. They gained significant insights that have the potential to contribute to school improvement. However, there are cheaper ways of doing this and I shall return to discuss a system that might be used profitably and cheaply to collect pupil opinion, later in the paper.
Current use of ICT in classrooms
The literature referred to in this section has been chosen as the most recent publications thrown up by a search of electronic databases under combinations of the key words "laptops; classrooms; education; ICT; school improvement". I am thus taking the research as a representation of current thinking. ICT is currently used in schools to assist in the learning of pupils. To this end there are skills programmes, such as Success Maker; simulations, such as Sim World; internet access; and software authoring tools, such as Word, and Excel. Each of these is designed to provide pupils with wider experience, or with more efficient tools, than they would have access to in a pre-computer classroom. Some of these programmes claim to enhance some skills, some experiences, some deep learning, some access to information, some conceptual development. In each case the teacher is effectively the provider and the pupil the consumer of a service. Whether this is training or educational opportunity depends on the programme and the way in which it is used.
The second use is for administration. Thus we have systems for registration, for assessment, for other record keeping, for communication between teachers, between teachers and the leadership team, between schools and such organisations as the DfES.
The research available about the use of these systems is of limited value because of publishing delay. Any paper published in 1999, for instance, probably refers to data gathering that finished in 1997. If this was based on even a year's observation of pupils using equipment that schools could afford to buy in 1996, it is unlikely to refer to Pentium processors or RAM of much more than 4 MB. The potential for such equipment is so much lower than we use today that feedback from its use must be interpreted carefully. I have tried to keep references in this paper more recent, but relatively little exists. Much faster publishing is required and this is one of the reasons for the establishment of the ICT Research Network (and, for instance http://www.schoolnet.ca/nis-rei/e/community; http://www.eun.org/cn/menu/map/map-innovation.html) However, the literature that exists suggest that use of ICT is limited to assisting pupils to learn (Raising Achievement), and facilitating the administrative work of teachers (Reducing Bureaucracy). Toshiba, (http://www.computers.toshiba.co.uk), in their Best Practice Research Fellowships, also add a third; Reducing Exclusion. These can be seen as the new Three Rs. This headline, however, gives no clue about how these three worthy aims might best be achieved. This paper ends with a proposal that could contribute in a new and effective way.
Gardner, Morrison, Jarman, Reilly, & McNally, (1994), in an early study, with very primitive hardware, looked at nine schools (one special, one primary and seven secondary in Northern Ireland) and 235 pupils, each having ownership of a portable computer over one school year. The report finds that there is a distinction between process-based and content-based learning that militates against the potential for the impact on pupils' learning. They found that a greater proportion of the experimental group (with computers) had a favourable perception of their school but that a greater proportion of the control group (without computers) felt secure at school.
Is it possible that the project's teachers, in concentrating their work on process aspects of their subject (as a result of the statements of attainment), actually communicated their insecurity to their pupils? p 166
Teachers who are anxious about new technology are not likely to communicate confidence to their pupils. Pupils took more care and pride in their work than would normally have been the case. Although satisfaction with the machines declined as the reality of "Luggable" computers became evident, later diaries also revealed an every-day use of technical jargon terms and recounted problems and solutions. Pupils with physical learning difficulties showed particular gains in self-esteem, motivation and quality of work.
There seems little doubt that for such children, portable computers are a worthwhile and perhaps necessary resource. p 167
This is an early example of difficulties encountered in raising achievement but, interestingly, it is a clear indication of the potential for reducing exclusion.
Later, and with better hardware, Twining, (2001) stresses that the objective of using ICT in schools is to help pupils to learn about IT; to develop skills, knowledge and understanding in a curriculum area; using computers to develop children's ability to learn and enhance approaches to learning; affective learning, supporting and enhancing the affective aspects of childrens' learning. ICT can be used as a reward or for marketing purposes. The teacher is identified as a co-learner (literally, colleague) but about the curriculum content, not about pedagogy. This is a fairly common view of the use of ICT in the classroom. I believe that there are other uses that have the potential for greatly enhancing the learning process.
Rowand, (2000) investigated the use to which teachers put ICT in a study commissioned by the (US) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The survey found that nearly all full-time regular public school teachers reported they had access to computers or the Internet somewhere in their schools. Forty percent of these indicated that they used computers or the Internet "a lot" to create instructional materials, and 34 percent reported using computers "a lot" for administrative record keeping. Less than 10 percent reported using computers or the Internet to access model lesson plans or to access research and best practices. Sixty-six percent reported using computers or the Internet for instruction during class time. Forty percent reported assigning students work that involved computer applications such as word processing or spreadsheets to a moderate or large extent; 30 percent reported assigning practice drills, and 30 percent reported assigning research using the Internet to a moderate or large extent. The applications are all about doing what would be done anyway, differently, using technology. A parallel could be drawn with the early use of television to bring into our homes the sort of entertainment that was already available. Before too long, instead of asking "How can we use this technology to do music hall and stage drama better?" Those responsible were asking "What can this technology do that is different and better?" This paper is asking the latter question.
Westwood & Dobson, (1999), based at the Friend's Junior School, Hobart, Tasmania, argue that the 10 and 11 years olds, whom they were studying, became more empowered, self-motivating, task-oriented, that they took more educational risks, working in their own time and at their own pace and showed greater creativity. "Machines react in a totally objective, non-emotional manner, leaving students to pass judgement on their [own] performance." (p 63). They found evidence of the creation of a community of learners who shared expertise and knowledge. This camaraderie reflects the situation that others who have common problems find: motorcyclists; runners; those who mess about on boats; those who face danger in armed and police services. This camaraderie and risk-taking led to better and more frequent problem-solving activities. They found creativity free to develop. Pupils revised and edited material much more readily than they would have done before. This is an early indication of what the technology can bring in that is new and different.
Rowell, (1998), in an unrefereed article discusses his experience as a secondary headteacher in Bermuda. He arranged for pupils to have laptops (16 MB RAM, 133 MHz). His asserts that home-school barriers were reduced; greater creativity, wonder and discovery were in evidence. Pupils co-operated and collaborated more fully, there was more time for critical thinking and presentation and communication skills improved. This sort of case study can be very helpful to those setting out in pursuit of the new Three Rs and more case study evidence is urgently needed. The improvement in home-school links is not a universal finding, see Lewin, Scrimshaw, Mercer, & Wegerif, (2000), but it is an area of great importance. While ever only highly vocal parents share their feelings about education with the school, the school is acting on a systematically biased sample of opinion. Some genuinely democratic means of soliciting opinion would greatly reduce the sampling difficulty that most schools experience. Better home-school links using electronic media are one way of achieving this.
Lewin, Scrimshaw, Mercer, & Wegerif, (2000), worked with 16 inner city schools with infant classes which were each provided with 30 Dreamwriters. This was an evaluation of the BECTa project called Key Stage 1 Literacy Evaluation Project. The machines were primitive and heavy, and there was a positive impact on home/school relationships for only some of the schools involved. This is an emerging technology and system of use, in a fast changing field players must sense the urgency to find best practice.
The enormous potential of modern laptops is illustrated by Phillips, Bailey, Fisher, & Harrison, (1999). This research is based on a stratified sample of 60 of the 1000 teachers who, in 500 schools covering all phases and special schools, were given laptops for the year 1996-7 under the "Multimedia Portables for Teachers" Project. The study uses case study data from face-to-face interviews with thirty women and thirty men. The uses of the laptops included:
Developing a computerised marking scheme.
Use of the WWW for astronomy, pupils taking their own photographs through a professional telescope and analysing the results
Students building up a library of digital photographs of the locality.
Use of CDROMs to simulate the location of a new factory.
Using e-mail for writing to teachers and pupil-pupil in other countries
Access to weather satellite images
Extensive use of the Guardian Unlimited site.
Joining a medical ethics internet discussion group (A level RE)
Creating fabric designs and then using a Computer Controlled sewing machine to implement them
Running a school news letter
Communication within the school between teachers
Live minuting of meetings
Trawling local newspaper archives about WW2
"Helping to galvanize the headteacher"
These ideas are working towards the first two "Rs", raising achievement and reducing bureaucracy. Half of all the teachers experienced email, WWW and CDROMs for the first time during this project. The greater familiarisation of teachers with elements of computing that are already familiar to many pupils will enable more confidence to be shown and shared in the classroom. The NGFL training will contribute to this confidence but as Phillips, Bailey, Fisher, & Harrison, (1999) conclude, teachers should be encouraged to take the laptops home and use them for personal and family purposes. "Knowing how" is not the same as competence born of familiarity. Teachers do not get tax reduction on the purchase of computers and this has inhibited the use of them in the homes of these indifferently paid professionals.
I have tried to demonstrate that, largely, schools have been trying to find ways of using computers to do what has always been done, but using computers to do it more quickly or more effectively. That is, computers have been assisting teachers to teach and pupils to learn. These, often commendable, initiatives have experienced different degrees of success at meeting their objectives. This paper outlines a different use that has the potential to raise achievement to the next quantum level.
The features of virtual discussions
It is often difficult for a young person to advance ideas and have them taken seriously. This phenomenon is encapsulated in the Victorian saying that young people should be seen and not heard. The effect is to persuade young people to remain silent on any issue where they might have a constructive input because they know that no notice will be taken if they voice their concerns. As MacBeath, Demetriou, & Myers, (2001) say about schools:
They may suffer from ... a history of their views being sought and then ignored, or perhaps having internalised a view that they really have nothing to contribute.
The same can be true about pupils. This leads teachers to believe that pupils have nothing to say about school improvement. Lewis, (2001) tells the story of Jonathan Lebed, 14 years old, who made $800 000 in six months on the stock exchange. He posted hundreds of messages on Yahoo! finance message boards, under different names, recommending stock that he had just bought with his pocket money and then sold at a profit as stockbrokers read the messages and the stock rose in value. He successfully passed himself off as an adult in order to be taken seriously by investors. This use of electronic discussions to present a fourteen year-old as a fully-functioning adult illustrates a mechanism whereby pupil voice might be heard economically.
When a message is read from a virtual discussion room, there is no visual clue about the writer, there is no formatting clue to mislead the reader by competent presentation. As I wrote recently in a discussion room:
The contributions that appear on the screen [are judged by] by their content alone. The fact that I cannot even change this font is an indicator of the zero possibility of making a message interesting by any means other than the quality of its English and of its ideas. The fact that we omit 70%-90% of the content of the message by losing non-verbal clues can be an advantage. When added to the advantage that each idea takes 4 times as long to write as it would to say, and four times as long to say as it does to think the same thought, and that there is the opportunity to review and alter a contribution before anyone else reads it, means that we have a totally different means of communication here. We are used to the idea that you cannot tell from this message whether I am male or female, tall or short, old or young, what I am wearing, to which racial group I belong, whether I have a disability or disfigurement, or whether I am so charged with sexual energy as to make you melt into your keyboard.
Eden & Hulbert, (1995) discussed the value of gender-free use of computers in raising the self-esteem of girls and their views of the essentially masculine field of technology. Their subjects reported great gains on relatively primitive machines. Importantly, they say:
The research into children's view of the causes of their educational failures has highlighted the importance of attributing failure to controllable factors rather than those which are seen [to be] beyond their control, p 11
This identification of controllable external factors that affect one's education is not the same as having an external locus of control that removes remedy from one's own sphere of influence. It is rather an acknowledgement that external factors can be recognised and turned to advantage to provide good learning experiences. Recognising that one can take the rocks out of one's rucsac is a first step to enjoying hill walking. If we can persuade pupils to talk to those with power about their learning needs, we can make a start on effective lessons for all.
I have demonstrated that recent surveys of good ICT practice do not include the sort of School Self-Evaluation that solicits the views of pupils and parents. However, there is considerable support for the efficacy of a user-consultation approach, not only for the informing of the providers of education, but also for the reflective activity on the part of the users that increases meta-cognition of their own learning. I have shown that the current use of ICT in schools focuses on assisting pupils to achieve more by studying more effectively, and by reducing bureaucracy for teachers. There is also a potential for the inclusion of more pupils who are presently excluded from education. However, there is little evidence of consultation with pupils through electronic media at present. I have discussed the features of electronic discussion, and how it could enable young people lacking in confidence to express their opinions, and indeed encourage them to do so. I have shown that, where pupil and parental opinion has been sought and obtained, it has not been invective in nature but generally constructive. The task now is to propose a model of how consultation could be successfully created in a virtual classroom.
Shortening the feedback loop
There are many ways in which schools try to get feedback about their work:
Inspectors coming into school every four years and feeding back to a terrified staff;
teachers reading the laudable work of, for instance, Arnot, Reay, Flutter, & Wang, (2001) about what other children say about learning in other schools several years ago (by the time it is published);
a school council sending a report to the head;
research conducted by pupils and subsequently reported to governors;
These mechanisms all confer benefit but nothing in comparison with a direct lesson by lesson commentary and data gathering exercise by pupils and read by the teacher, made available by the use of a discussion room.
A proposed model for a virtual classroom
A virtual classroom is a mechanism that could be exploited by teachers in a process that is becoming known as "School self-review". If only teachers could create a virtual classroom alongside the real one, in which the same pupils and teacher could communicate within a heirarchy that depended only on the quality of ideas; if parents could enter this classroom also; it would be possible not only for the teacher to learn about the pupils' and parents' views on education, but also for pupils and parents to learn about their own needs in relation to those of others. When pupils and parents are encouraged to think that it is worth voicing their opinions about learning and teaching, because someone is paying attention, they will have a reason for thinking more deeply about the process. Their contributions will come to resemble what, in universities, is called reflective writing. Once we get pupils realising their potential for affecting the rate of their learning by altering the form in which they access ideas, we lift the burden from the teacher of targeting each pupil individually. Instead, the pupil filters what s/he wants from the smorgasbord that the teacher offers up. Moderating and summarising the discussion could be the job of a trained group of pupils who would be learning skills that we do not have at present but which will be of vital use in the future. This is a development of the training of pupils as counsellors and arbitrators, which is becoming common in schools at present. Thus the teacher would be presented with a digest of a discussion about a series of lessons or other activities through a process that enhances skills throughout the pupil population.
The teacher would have to post appropriately challenging topics for discussion, learn to be an e-moderator (Salmon, 2001a); spend sufficient time reading what had been written; and learn to incorporate ideas from the discussion room into face to face lessons. In order to successfully encourage pupils to contribute, the etiquette should be appropriate (Salmon, 2001b); this is a new form of conversation that must develop its own rules. Those involved in the training of teachers, and in their in-service training, should be modelling the creation of such a positive learning discussion space within the programmes of professional development that they run. I expect that those who have read so far will now be shaking their heads in disbelief at what is being proposed on the grounds that they do not have the skills. This is a fast changing world where skills are learned in months.
Based upon my experience as a teacher of young people and on my experience of working as a pupil in a virtual classroom, I offer diagram one as a model for creating an appropriate learning environment.
Hall & White, (2001), introduces a note of warning. The University of Southampton has been introducing computer-based learning since 1992 through the "Scholar Project". Three difficulties are identified that have to be tackled simultaneously.
Staff development and empowerment
Teaching and learning styles
The authors report that the research led institution has placed little emphasis on teaching and learning, whilst paying attention to the other two items. Instead the focus of resources on raising its RAE profile took precedence. Lectures have used the web to distribute lecture notes but "It is hard to see any real evidence that computer-based learning has become an integral part of teaching and learning at Southampton" p 3. (Hall & White, 2001), expect and detect a change now as students are paying more for, and demanding higher standards of, higher education. External pressures are providing a motivation that was lacking in the institution. What external pressure is it going to take for us to want to take the next step into school improvement?
Hagreaves' capital theory of school improvement, (Hargreaves, 2001), discusses the intellectual and social capital that is necessary for teachers to obtain the leverage that is necessary to ensure that teachers are more effective and that responsibility is transferred to the learners. This paper has outlined a mechanism that may facilitate the generation of intellectual capital by pupils. It outlines the creation of a network for dissemination of this capital. It shows how teachers may obtain more leverage in their efforts to raise educational achievement amongst future generations.
Figure 1: Steps towards creating a virtual classroom
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