Transitions : 'The journey from chalk & talker to Innovatively Communicating Teacher.'
Tricia le Gallais
Research Fellow, UCE
Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, University of Exeter, England, 12-14 September 2002
"The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."
J. R. R. Tolkien
The writer would like to express her thanks to Stourbridge FE College, West Midlands, where she is employed 3 days a week as a researcher, for allowing her access to the staff and students of the Advanced Technology Centre.
Particular thanks are also due to the Construction staff at the ATC, who have supported this research with their time, participation and enthusiasm.
In an increasingly audit/efficiency orientated educational world the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) as a vehicle of curriculum delivery is lauded for its potential to achieve greater teacher efficiency and effectiveness (Laurillard, 1998).
Expectations abound of ICT facilitating the transition from the traditional image of a chalk and talk approach to a high tech delivery, which speaks the language of the 21st century learner. Furthermore the utilisation of ICT as the teacher's mode of delivery anticipates the bonus of add-on value for the curricular areas concerned - in this case construction.
However, in the midst of such hype about cutting edge technology enhancing teaching and learning stand the practitioners, who are all too often expected to make this transition smoothly, effortlessly - and independently. The journey before them is often not of their choosing, one for which they feel ill-prepared and the final destination of which remains shrouded in the mists of someone else's vision.
The researcher therefore contends that in this championing of the new there is something of a neglect for the psychological and emotional needs of the teacher as a learner. This disregard for the lecturers' 'educational fragility'1 runs the risk of endangering their sense of professional competence.
Focused on a case study set within an FE college in the West Midlands, this paper explores the impact of ICT as a teaching medium upon the practitioners. Through analysing their perceptions, emotions and reactions to the changes ICT has wrought in their professional lives, the researcher seeks to understand its impact upon their teaching, their self-image and their sense of professional identity. For others embarking upon such a transition the paper offers insights into the journey and the likely barriers and opportunities to be encountered along the way.
This paper contends that to be successful a transformational journey needs to be a shared and sharing experience; equilibrium between the forces demanding change and the resources facilitating the change is vital as is the correlation between high challenge and high levels of support.
Having a vision is not enough to ensure success: winning the hearts and feeding the minds of those assigned to the interpretation of the vision is as essential as steadfastness on the part of the visionary.
One does not have to look far these days to find a reference to the merits of Information Communication Technology (ICT) as a means of transforming the teaching and learning process (Armstrong, Thompson & Brown 1997, Mills & Tait 1996, Laurillard 1998). ICT is also heralded for its potential to offer add-on value to the training it facilitates (La Velle & Nichol 2000) thereby increasing efficiency outcomes.
It is not therefore surprising that the college in question should be pursuing the vision of delivering courses through this medium. However the curriculum area selected by the college is more unexpected. The choice of Construction is not only innovative, it also responds to the increasingly urgent need within this sector of the economy to join the digital age (Evans, 2000).
Keen to approach this transition to ICT delivery systematically the college appointed a researcher to assist in identifying the barriers and opportunities associated with the introduction of ICT into the construction curriculum. This research forms part of an ongoing evaluation by the researcher and concentrates upon the reflections of the lecturers concerning their transition from a traditional chalk and talk approach to the utilisation of ICT as the medium of delivery.
This paper includes a consideration of the rationale behind the decision to move into ICT delivery, the way in which it was introduced and the impact of the transition upon the staff. Issues surrounding the change process will inevitably feature prominently. However the writer wishes to stress at this point that this paper is concerned with the journey of the staff towards ICT competence and it is not intended as a treatise on change.
Whilst 18 staff took part in this phase of the research, over 70 staff and students have been involved in the research undertaken to date at the college and data from earlier findings will be utilised in this paper, (Le Gallais, 2001a & b, 2002). The data has been gathered predominantly through semi-structured interviews because this qualitative approach afforded the researcher the richest material. Questionnaires were also utilised together with observations and group discussions. Findings were shared with interviewees on an ongoing basis, thereby achieving respondent validation and aiding the triangulation process.
Why introduce ICT delivery into the Construction Curriculum at Stourbridge College? How will it benefit the industry the college serves? There are various perspectives to be considered in responding to the above questions - educational and industrial perspectives and those specific to the college and its construction staff.
As Bates (2001, www) points out, pressure from successive governments to increase student numbers year on year whilst funding decreases creates obvious problems of finance, staffing, space and quality of provision. Well-designed ICT packages should offset these problems as well as offering flexibility to learners to work on their own, in groups and/or with their tutor, in real time or asynchronously. Being able to study when, where and how they choose is likely to be a major factor in students' decision-making about educational establishments. Anne Wright, Chief Executive of Ufi, sums up her vision of e-learning as follows:
"The e-learning revolution is primarily a revolution for learners. Self-managed e-learning enables people to get the skills they need when they need them, and to learn when, where and how they want to in ways that fit their lives and work." (Wright, cited by Caseley, 2000, p22.)
La Velle & Nichol (2000) also write of ICT's potential to change the educational environment, in which we teach and learn:
" ...with the help of learning environments, which are independent of time and place, it is possible to break out of limitations imposed by the classroom and individual educational institutions and offer new opportunities for training for companies and adults."
(Ruokamo& Pohjolainen quoted by La Velle & Nichol, 2000, p102)
The impact of globalisation and the need for constant re-training and lifelong learning means that education can no longer be presumed to end at 16 or 18. Training providers are now faced with customers with a wider range of needs than has been the case to date. Being able to offer a variety of teaching and learning strategies will be vital to their success and to that of their customers. Further educational benefits concerning ICT are considered in Le Gallais (2001a)
The short answer is that globalisation necessitates any industry seeking to survive to utilise the latest technology in its bid to remain competitive. Lee (2000) writes of the concern about how to get small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - the vast majority of construction companies are SMEs - on board the 'internet bandwagon', commenting that lack of capital and internal IT expertise exacerbate this problem. It is anticipated that the delivery of vocational courses through the medium of ICT will offer the companies the add-on value of enhanced IT literate skills amongst their trainees. La Velle & Nichol (2000, p102) also point out the potential of ICT for enabling companies to go digital.
" ICT can also provide an interface between the cutting edge of education and training and the outdated industrial and commercial practices embedded in the culture of regionally isolated small and medium sized firms and businesses...The incentive is ICT's role in enabling local commerce and industry to function effectively in a world where ICT gives competitors a clear advantage."
No FE college in the 21st century would survive if it were not to seek constant improvement through innovative ideas and practices. The selection by Stourbridge College of the construction department for its latest venture served two purposes:
1. The college has always valued its strong links with local industries through the training it offers. The opportunity to facilitate the introduction of new technology into local companies as add-on value was a major incentive.
2. Secondly the success of the construction department meant they needed more space. Out of this necessity was born the vision of an Advanced Technology Centre (ATC) with the construction staff being central to its realisation because they were seen to be flexible, receptive to change and keen to fit in with new ideas, (Le Gallais, 2001b).
Transitions: 'The management had dreams, we had nightmares!'
As the above quotation from a member of the college staff indicates change might be seen by the management to be desirable, advantageous or imperative - but that does not make its implementation any easier within the organisation. This section seeks to explore the change process at the college and concentrates upon two areas, which feature strongly in change literature, namely resistance and communication. The research completed to date identifies the key role these two areas have played in change at the college.
Boyett & Boyett (1998) contend that the key issue for the failures mentioned above is that of resistance to change, even where the change seems to the management to be to the advantage of the resistees. They cite O'Toole's Thirty-Three Hypotheses for Why People Resist, (ibid, p51). The researcher has selected a cross section of these, which, in the light of previous research, would appear to reflect some staff's perspectives at the college:
2. Stare decisis-presumption given to the status quo; burden of proof is on change.
3. Inertia-takes considerable power to change course.
4. Satisfaction-most people like the way things are.
5. Lack of ripeness- the preconditions for change haven't been met; the time isn't right.
6. Fear- people fear the unknown.
8. Lack of confidence- we don't think we are up to the new challenges.
11. Lack of knowledge- we don't know how to change or what to change to.
20. Snow blindness- groupthink, or social conformity.
The fit between these hypotheses and staff's responses will be explored in Section Three with the number(s) of the relevant hypothesis following the text.
Whilst Boyett & Boyett (ibid) view resistance as an impediment to change, Waddell & Sohal (2002 www) advance the belief that resistance should be seen as an ally not an enemy. Resistance can play an important part in identifying possible problems with the envisaged change. It can also be a catalyst for searching out further innovative solutions. Apathy on the other hand can lead to passive acceptance of management decisions2 thereby losing out on the stimulation resistance and conflict can bring to a situation. Their positive view of resistance is in keeping with the position held by Scott & Jaffe (1994), who refer to the resistance phase in the change process as being vital to the overall success of the venture, in that it enables staff to explore and share their concerns and to work their way through their sense of loss and vulnerability.
The importance of being able to share concerns openly is addressed by Klein (2002, www), who sees poor communication as a key impediment to successful change. He comments that 'ambiguity surrounding (change) provides a fertile ground for rumours, anxiety and ultimately resistance.' Where staff feel uncertain as to the effect of the change upon them, their vulnerability will create a negative stance towards the proposed changes. Boyett & Boyett (ibid, p54) likewise condemn 'under-communication', which leaves staff confused as to the 'when, where, how, and, most importantly, the why of the change.' They outline the need for ensuring that people believe the proposed change will be successful and an improvement on the status quo - hypothesis 2. In addition they strongly advise that a shared vision with the end clearly in mind, together with achievable initial targets are essential to enhance prospects of successful transition from the status quo to the desired change. These recommendations have clear resonance with Covey's 'Seven Habits' (1992).
The vital nature of communication in the change process is picked up by Kitchen & Daly (2002,www), who describe the all too common practice of ensuring that everyone is aware of the change afoot apart from those most directly involved - the staff. They contend that 'communicating from the inside out' increases the likelihood of staff feeling part of the change process and committing to it.
Section Three: Change at the Chalk-face.
As previously stated the change process under the researcher's microscope in this paper is the transition of the construction staff from a chalk and talk delivery to the utilisation of ICT. The status quo for the construction staff was one of blackboards, the occasional use of an OHP, books and handouts. The teaching environment for most of them was functional but not inspiring - traditional spaces for traditional teaching methods. However the rough-hewn nature of their facilities lent itself to lecturers describing the learning arena as a virtual reality workplace - 'this is how it is lads in the world outside' - and a sound work ethos was engendered.
Over the years the staff had imprinted their own identities upon these somewhat anonymous units. Microwaves, fridges and toasters enabled lecturers to create a home-from-home, which engendered a strong esprit-de-corps amongst the various departments within construction. Vicissitudes of the day could be smoothed away within such a supportive atmosphere.
However the envisaged change would involve not only a new way of delivering their subject but also a new environment, in which to perform this transition. For many staff these changes brought with them stresses akin to moving house and job at the same time. The fact that the changes were deemed to be positive ones by the management just served to widen the empathy gap, an all too common occurrence explored by Boyett & Boyett (ibid, pp 49-51).
The staff in question had achieved considerable success with their traditional mix of chalk, talk and practicals, thereby becoming themselves the catalysts for change of some sort - at the very least they needed larger premises. It was ironic for some of them that their very success had thrust them into a confrontation with the 21st century technology, which challenged what they saw to be their strength - sharing their expertise through human interaction.
This research traces their journey towards ICT competence, from the initial anxieties or excitement through to the exhilaration or otherwise of the present moment. The researcher advisedly avoids referring to the end of their journey, since even those lecturers wary or weary of change accept that there is no end to change in the modern world - there will always be more to learn and further to travel.
Initial reactions to the management's ICT vision for their departments varied considerably. Several lecturers described feeling terrible, anxious or vulnerable due to their IT inexperience and lack of understanding about what the change would actually mean for them:
'We were not told anything... no one really seemed to know what to expect. I was dubious and anxious.'
'I felt terrible not knowing anything about IT; I was really anxious.'
'I was very sceptical. I didn't really believe it would happen.'
However there were also those, who were excited by the challenge - 'brilliant! I couldn't wait!' 'I was keen from the outset. The concept is fantastic.' A couple of lecturers expressed a resigned acceptance of the advent of technology - 'it's in the industry already and we must move with the times.'
The gamut of emotions outlined above is reminiscent of the research carried out by Boyett & Boyett (1998), Klein (2002, www) and Kitchen & Daly (2002,www) into the importance of inside out communication. One lecturer described how the task of 'realising the dreams of others was daunting'. Another commented that:
'No one really told us what they wanted. They didn't know themselves really - it was all new, groundbreaking stuff. We would have meetings and be told that that wasn't what was wanted but no one could tell us what was wanted.'
Another lecturer gave a very graphic description of how he had felt in the early stages:
'We blundered our way a lot...The vision stayed behind the curtain - they'd lift the curtain a little and we'd get a glimpse.'
These comments are made retrospectively and it is appropriate at this point to quote a lecturer speaking 18 months ago about his perceptions of how the transition to ICT was progressing:
'The working environment has been planned from day one with the staff. Everything has been done to meet the needs of the staff and the students. We have been fully involved in discussing the provision and space needed and this has proved to be very demanding for the contractors.'
(Le Gallais, 2001b, P4)
The apparent discrepancy between these two viewpoints would appear to lie with the nature of change. It does not follow a predetermined path and the journey will be unique for every traveller - at least as far as their perceptions are concerned3. In general though it did appear that the initial stage of the change process functioned successfully with structured two-way communication. However, as previous research has indicated (Le Gallais 2001a), the curtain fell when the journey led into uncharted waters, leaving some staff to metaphorically founder on the rocks of ignorance. Following feedback concerning this loss of communication one of the vice-principals commented:
'Whether good or bad news, the important thing is to share information.'
(Le Gallais, 2002, p12.)
The other factor in the change frame at the college was that of resistance - why it occurred and how it was perceived and responded to. Klein's (2002, www) view that 'ambiguity surrounding (change) provides a fertile ground for rumours, anxiety and ultimately resistance' was indeed the case for some at the chalk face. Returning to O'Toole's Thirty-Three Hypotheses for Why People Resist, cited by Boyett & Boyett (ibid, p51), many have resonance with the responses of the lecturers. Fear of the unknown and a lack of confidence in their ability to meet the ICT challenge were cited by many as reasons for their initial reluctance to embrace the management's vision - hypotheses 6,8 & 11. Others also felt that everything should have been in place prior to the move - hypothesis 5. There was also an element of what O'Toole refers to as 'snow blindness' with a positive or negative stance towards ICT being dependent upon the prevailing group or departmental attitude - hypothesis 20.
The shape this resistance took at the college was defined by a passivity towards the necessary stages of progress - hypothesis 3. Vulnerability and a lack of confidence seemed to numb the initiative and drive of certain lecturers, who adhered to the letter but didn't achieve commitment to the spirit of the transition. Going through the motions meant attendance at training sessions but no follow through. Their hearts simply weren't in it. For this group of lecturers their status quo had been both successful and comfortable and they were yet to be persuaded of the merits of the change - hypothesis 2.
Others contrasted strongly with this stance and described with enthusiasm their excitement about ICT and its impact upon their teaching and the learning experience:
'It is a great resource. It is modern and up to date - innovative. To me it is young people friendly and it speaks their language.'
'It focuses the class attention far more than traditional black boards...the plasma screen offers computer graphics and is animated. It breaks with the familiar and traditional image of teaching.'
'There is such flexibility, every previous learning style into one; you're no longer limited to static images. It speeds up the actual teaching process; a white board is so much slower than plasma screens. You have tremendous control over the screen; it's very graphic, it's 'real'- closer to simulation than a flat board and handouts.'
Lest we forget reality amidst the praise for ICT delivery, the comment of one lecturer humorously reminds us that no system is person proof:
'What's ICT? Well it's normal now isn't it? We used to walk in and find the board hadn't been cleaned - now we find the previous person hasn't closed down the computer properly - nothing changes!'
Others were equally realistic about the problems arising from teaching and learning through the medium of ICT. The image of lecturers resting whilst eager students learn their way through challenging multi-media packages is not one they would recognise - or indeed wish to recognise.
'You can't expect IT to give an easy ride for teachers with students caught up by the technology. They know about IT, they want to learn the trade.'
It was interesting to note how they portrayed the reactions of trainees to the use of ICT. In contrast to the lecturer who believed that ICT 'spoke their language' the majority of staff described the 16-19 year olds as being - in equal numbers - scared or bored with the 'state of the art' technology used in their lessons. To set the balance the writer has spoken to several young trainees, who professed to be very excited about this new form of training and very proud to study in such an environment.
In contrast to their perceptions of the younger trainees, the majority of lecturers considered their mature students to be enthusiastic about the add-on IT value they were receiving as part of their vocational training. Being mindful of their own ICT journey staff were sensitive to the varied attitudes of their trainees:
'Not all students will welcome ILT in the same way as not all staff did- we have a marketing exercise here too. Teachers need to be aware of these conflicting experiences, perceptions and needs.'
(Le Gallais, 2001b, p10.)
The staff were also sensible to the pitfall of allowing the medium of delivery to take over as an end in itself. The following comment by one lecturer seeks to set ICT firmly in its educational place:
'It is vital that we retain the flexibility in our teaching. If something exciting or difficult turns up we need to stop everything and discuss it. We must not allow the technology to remove the moments of inspiration... ICT is only another tool in the toolbox but the lecturer is the key.
(Le Gallais, 2001b, pp 5-6.)
Having considered the affect on the learner of ICT delivery, the researcher was keen to explore how the change in their teaching role had impacted upon staff and their professional and personal image. Overwhelmingly lecturers spoke of a real difference to their sense of self worth and pride in their professional competence. There is also the belief that it has enhanced the image of the industry too. Being invited to visit other centres to share good practice has reinforced the success of the venture even in the eyes of the doubters.
'For those who've embraced it - it's made a lot of difference to their personal image.'
'There's a lot of difference for me. We do feel more important in ourselves. When you are using ICT you feel you are achieving something. You look more professional and the student responds better.'
'Increased personal sense of competence -more confident about skills being upgraded and transferable.'
'I surprised myself in Sweden4, I felt a real personal pride in our packages and how far ahead we are.'
'It's given me insight - a vision of how training ought to be delivered. No one
else has what we have here. I am proud of other people's reactions. I am proud of the management, which ran with construction and kept the faith. A lot of colleges haven't - it's a bold venture.'
'It's been very positive for me and for the industry too. It's given us a higher profile; the trainees feel this as well.'
'It has given me a greater incentive to work. I was stale. I now feel fired up to work.'
The relish with which some lecturers describe the effect of becoming ICT confident shows the really deep effect this transition has had on many of them.
'It's an undeniable factor - you do walk like an IT gunslinger with your Plasma pen in your holster ready to solve the problems and ride off into the sunset. I can now cut it with the rest of them. You suddenly realise that the drongo you thought you were is no longer in the picture - it did my image a power of good.'
Even those who did not feel the transition and move to the ATC had had any impact upon them personally still commented positively:
'No but it has brought a change in our image. It has brought us all together. Since September it has made us a real family- a professional outfit. The fears lots of us had have been shown to be groundless...It has really spruced up our image and we've had no problems.'
The lack of problems above referred specifically to the excellent behaviour of the trainees. It had been anticipated that there might have been difficulties with the open plan multi-level training areas and the vulnerability of expensive high-tech equipment but the trainees have responded well to their changed environment. There is no graffiti, no gratuitous damage and the centre is amazingly spotless for a construction training centre.
One would be naïve however to imagine that this transition was totally unburdened with difficulties. These now centre mainly upon resources of time and equipment - the time to develop materials and the tools to deliver them. These areas are developed further in Section Four.
In order to explore the more personal issues concerning the staff's journey towards ICT enlightenment the writer asked them to reflect upon their own experiences with a view to supporting others along the same path.
Section Four: Marking the way for future journeymen.
The lecturers were asked how they would advise others starting out on such a journey. They offered recommendations both for the lecturer and the management facing a similar change process. Most interviewees stressed the importance of responding to the social and psychological needs of the staff involved. Keeping them fully informed was another vital ingredient:
'You need to show you value your staff and that if they have problems they are no less valued than they are now. When ICT is presented make sure you show its potential; avoid the pressures of the cattle prod. Be constructive and show examples of good practice.'
' The management did not understand the massive transition for us. We lost the basics - our desks, areas for clothes, lockers, personal resources - these were the most hurtful things. Make the staff feel wanted - the social aspect must not be ignored5. We were at the old site for 20 years and took it very hard. Our routine was challenged and we were dropped off in a wilderness with no little dens - we felt very insecure.'
'The staff need to feel confident that they are part of the action.'
Any lecturers now facing the ICT challenge were advised by the ATC lecturers to feel the fear and do it anyway.6
Do not expect everything to come together straight away. Accept that you will worry, everyone does at the beginning.'
'You need the right person to support you; you need mutual trust. It is important to try it out with students and to have a sense of humour.'
'Start with the basics. Do not try to be too advanced. Get a general understanding...Start simply and do not be afraid to try. Go for everything.'
One lecturer's recommendations for supporting others through such a transition reflect the Kurt Lewinian7 model of change, involving the three stages: unfreezing, changing and refreezing. His first recommendation was that, prior to the change being undertaken, staff should be given explanations as to why the changes are needed and be reassured and supported through this initial phase, which equates with the Lewinian unfreezing stage. This involves challenging the status quo, the comfort factor of which is likely to hinder change, together with reinforcing the positive potential of the desired change. However the college lecturer also stressed the importance of 'highlighting the staff's present strengths and celebrating their present success.'
He then recommended moving towards the ICT angle and considering how to deliver in this way. His parallel with Kurt Lewin's changing stage would be his concern that during the change period, there should be ongoing training, regular meetings and support with the vulnerabilities and uncertainties the staff will be experiencing.
Klein (ibid) stresses the vital role of continued and vociferous management support during this stage and there were comments by some of the college staff about feeling they had been abandoned to their fate - 'dropped off in the wilderness'. Whether the progress is going well or otherwise, this lecturer stressed the importance of keeping all staff fully involved in the picture. This is seen to be a vital part of the change process and it reinforces earlier research findings at the college (Le Gallais, 2002). His view concerning embedding the change - refreezing - was that this could be achieved by celebrating the positive impact of the change and acknowledging the part played by everyone in the successful outcome.
Section Three closed with the comment that prevailing problems concerned issues of time and resources. These concerns are now explored through staff reflections. Several staff stressed the need for systems to be in place before any transition is attempted. However they also admitted that had they not moved to the ATC when they did the urgency of their ICT conversion would have had little impact. Nonetheless they do make valid points about ensuring that adequate and appropriate resources are in place so that staff do not have to resort to traditional methods because the plasma screens are all booked out or the plasma pen's battery has run out!
One lecturer outlines the responsibilities of both managers and lecturers seeking to follow in the ATC footsteps:
'You (the lecturer) need to regularly practise ideally with a pc at home; odd short courses do not help. Training needs to be concerned with relevant tasks, which will be regularly performed. Training needs to be tailored to suit the needs of the lecturer and the relevant tasks. You do not need clait* with spreadsheets, etc. A bit at a time is best! Ongoing is the word! You need to ensure that pcs are available for staff to practise. Having to go out of your way to learn needs real motivation. Bring the tent to the palace and have pcs in the departments.'
What has become very clear during the course of this research is that one off training sessions are of little long term value. Little, often and relevant to the task in hand are the key messages coming out from the lecturers as they look back on their journey to date. Like their students they know they learn best by doing and 'learning on the job' is in their industrial psyche. Theory and practical need to be inextricably linked - for them the theory alone will not work. But they need the tools to be able to do the job.
Section Five: Teachers in transition.
Having reflected on the psychological and social implications of the change, it is time to consider the actual transition from chalk to plasma pen. Almost 2 years before the physical move to the ATC in September 2001, training in the use of IT had been on offer to the construction staff. However, akin to Scott & Jaffe's (ibid) 'denial phase' few followed this up because there was the feeling that 'it might never happen'. There was also the fact that training seemed to consist of courses such as clait, which the lecturers did not consider to be relevant to their needs - note the above comment*.
The arrival of the researcher in October 2000 acted as a catalyst in that her questions centred around the lecturers' progress towards personal IT competence and departmental progress towards the creation of the multi-media materials needed to realise the dream of ICT delivery.
Did this now mean that it was really going to happen?
Reactions to 'being researched' were mixed. The researcher encountered enthusiasm, cynicism, panic and resignation but, most importantly for her research and the college, a willingness to share their concerns and perspectives about the transition. Poor communication was the single biggest issue raised by the lecturers at this stage. They knew, as with all new ventures, that there were slippages with time scales, etc. Coming from construction backgrounds they could see the problems for themselves, probably more clearly than the management. Consequently well-meaning reassurances about how everything was going to plan when it patently wasn't only served to increase anxieties about how they were going to cope. This state of affairs did little to encourage their transition from tried, tested and successful methods to, as one lecturer termed it, ' pie in the sky ideas'.
As part of her research brief the writer explored the training issue in October 2000 and surveyed the staff concerning their level of IT competence and confidence and the skills they felt they needed to meet the new challenges ahead. Trainers were then selected carefully with the stress on their people skills and ability to encourage and support anxious and/or resistant staff on their journey into the digital world.
Asked retrospectively about how they were supported through this phase many felt that the training had been too little too late, although several acknowledged their own reticence had played a part in this. Pressures on time were cited as a major impediment to their embracing the concept of ICT delivery.
'Time was the biggest issue. We needed more time for training and still need help there. We needed the impetus to start though. When we knew we had to use it, we all started to push for help.
With flexibility limited as far as timetabling was concerned, most departments sought out a 'champion' and accorded him any available time. Whilst this answered the need for departments to be 'nominally' involved with the multi-media package creation, it also meant that others within the department could sit back and 'let the champion do the ICT bit'. This was not an option welcomed by everyone:
'We've supported one of our staff to champion the IT introduction into our department but this put pressure on the rest of us and gave us ironically less time to get involved ourselves.'
'We had one old machine and this meant only one person could really progress so we chose our champion but we did not progress ourselves.'
In the same way as the advent of a researcher caused a flurry of training activities and some refocusing on the tasks in hand, there were increased pressures and heightened stress levels as the move to the ATC became more imminent. This came from two sources of perceived inadequacies. Firstly many staff relived their anxieties about working with a medium, in which the students were likely to be more competent than they were. Secondly they were faced with moving to a paperless environment without the confidence that all their course materials were up and running in ICT format.
However, foremost on the voiced concerns list was the issue of no staff room or designated staff only area. Being ousted from their 'dens' to a totally open plan structure left them feeling even more vulnerable.
'We feel like nomads here, there's just not enough storage space for us...we were dropped off in a wilderness with no little dens - we felt very insecure.'
This social need has been responded to in part by the management with staff areas being created, although ironically the staff have now begun to value the lack of bolt holes, for this has brought the whole team together in a way, which their previous premises would never have achieved. Indeed, since the arrival at the ATC in September 2001, the researcher has observed how the initial departmental seating clusters have given way to an integrated mix of curricular areas and increased social interaction. Their new environment has facilitated a positive culture of collegiality, limited in their previous locations on strict departmental lines.
We now find the lecturers firmly ensconced in a totally ICT oriented advanced technology centre but how has this physical move to the ATC affected their transition to ICT delivery? Has it moved them along the road? The answer to the latter question is most decidedly yes! When based at the main college with few IT facilities readily available in their area, it was all too easy to look the other way and play ostrich - see Appendix 1.
Moving into a 'state of the art' advanced technology centre gave them no room for IT avoidance, although it must be stressed here that the number of converts was rising steadily with most departments fully committed. However, to return to O'Toole's (ibid) hypothesis 3, this dramatic change of scene was probably exactly what was needed to respond to the inertia setting in amongst some staff. The dream had after all been shared way back in 1999 and in July 2001 it still awaited realisation. Staff comments show the importance of the move - the curtain is lifted at last!
'Being at the ATC means you have to use IT more, the ethos encourages that. The place encourages you to extend and improve the quality of the work prepared to date. We are in a spiral of constant improvement. We had 90% PowerPoint and 10% multi-media interactive and we thought that was good in 10/2001 - now it's the reverse in 4/2002 - that's a speedy transition!'
'The ATC has brought reality to the vision. I am more excited because I can see it working here.'
'Being here has made a real difference -it's more comfortable but the key thing is that the IT is all around you, you can't not use it.'
As one lecturer commented, coming to the ATC was like trading in your '£200 old banger for a brand new Porsche full of performance potential you're keen to test out'. Moving from an original stance of apathy, anxiety or antagonism staff are now looking to explore the possibilities of this new tool:
'It has strengthened the role of ICT. ICT must play a greater part. We need a more dynamic method of teaching. It's a greater challenge now to really push out the boundaries in teaching and learning strategies.'
Their enthusiasm does not however blind them to the needs of their students and to their role in the learning equation.
'The move has made a real difference; IT is all around us here. We automatically use it now...The work atmosphere is brilliant too. We want to make the teaching through ICT very exciting...it is important to remember to keep face to face and not put trainees into boxes to learn. They need the lecturer. In the old place we all had our own little boxes and we did not really mix. Here we all integrate, which is better for everyone.'
'The student can see work via the plasma screen as a group and can follow it up as an individual. But the student needs the underpinning knowledge from the lecturer and they do need individual time.'
But as to whether this is the end of their journey? This is not the message they are sending. The genie is out of the bottle and they are keen now to stretch ICT to its full potential - and themselves too! They're ready to embrace change. As one lecturer commented:
'We need to be thinking about the potential for the next ten years, not now, now's gone! So many colleges still seem to be working 'as they always have done'- we must look forward and seize this opportunity.'
Reflecting now on the ICT journey undertaken by the construction staff the question arises as to why some have embraced the changes so readily and others continue to offer resistance. It is certainly not a question of age - more an issue of mindset, as the attitudes of the students confirm. The typology below sets out five suggested mindsets and the fit between these and the college staff at the start of the ICT change process in October 2000.
|change accommodators...||laissez-change...||change reluctants...||change resisters...|
It can be seen from the above that there was considerable initial concern about the change due to reasons covered in earlier sections. It is important to stress here that this hesitation about leaping into ICT did not appear to originate from antipathy towards the management. Indeed many lecturers spoke of the pride they felt in having been selected for this transition. Several commented on the bravery of the principal in keeping the faith through the tough times and in 'putting her money where her mouth is!'
Whilst the 'change embracers' were in the minority their positive impact far outweighed their numerical value. Erikson, the England football manager, would describe their role to be that of 'cultural architects' - they helped to create the right culture for moving their colleagues forward. These were the champions, whose enthusiasm brought the teams forward however reluctantly initially. Those who were most confident about using ICT also mentioned some prior level of IT awareness - usually from a pc and/or IT confident children at home.
Figure 2 revisits the typology as of May 2002 and updates the staff's positioning.
|change accommodators...||laissez-change...||change reluctants...||change resisters|
The 'change embracers' above now include born-again IT recruits, whose initial stance had been anything but enthused. A case study of just such a lecturer - the 'IT Ostrich'- is to be found in Appendix 1.
One reason for the eventual accommodation of change, which is put forward by two lecturers, has to do with their industrial background. One talks of how hard the transition has been and how lucky the college is that it was construction because they 'were more adaptable to change.' The other is more specific:
'In the construction industry we have had to get used to change as the norm. Remaining competitive is vital and you have to move with the times or you lose out. This technology is here to stay and it's vital we embrace it.'
Others talk of the importance of having some IT awareness to ease the ICT nerves, even if it is just a 'little dabbling with the home computer.' One lecturer stressed how he felt that all teacher training should now involve training on the use of ICT in order to meet the expectations of the younger trainees. Of those who took part in this phase of the research there still remain a couple of lecturers who have found the transition too daunting. This seems to be mainly due to technophobia rather than any deliberate negativity on their part.
Section Six: Conclusion.
From chalk, talk and dens to plasma screens at the ATC - a momentous physical, social and psychological transition, which few of those involved could ever have envisaged themselves making. Sadly not all the lecturers did complete the journey.
One lecturer retired after many successful years lecturing relieved that he could let others move the department forward into territory he saw as daunting. He did not believe it was the right path to take. Lingering doubts also remain with a decreasing minority of lecturers who will have to see the success of ICT delivery before they believe it. Had the change been managed differently, addressing the emotional and psychological needs of the staff as well as responding to their training needs as and when they required support, perhaps there would have been fewer doubting Thomases.
The psychological reasoning behind undertaking the journey in the first place is an important consideration for the instigators of change. Do the travellers want to make the journey? Do they need to or do they have to? What has been done to prepare them? To show the necessity for making the journey? To show the value of the anticipated outcome? Have they been kept fully in touch with the progress being made? Have they been encouraged to participate fully in all stages of the journey?
Change in itself is not the stumbling block but how it is managed can prove to be. Recipients of change should not be treated as passive participants; encouraging their proactive involvement brings with it personal commitment to the change. Whilst it is clearly incumbent upon everyone, both staff and management to play their part, the management must facilitate the process through engendering an empowering culture conducive to change.
However hindsight is a sterile tool unless it is used to inform future practice, which is exactly what the college in question intends to do (Le Gallais, 2002). The lecturers have the knowledge that through their involvement in this research they have also made a contribution not only to the college's understanding of this particular change process but also to future visions and their implementation.
This has been a journey of self-exploration, personal challenges and triumphs for the majority of those involved. As they look back down the road they do so with pride in their personal and professional progress and in the part they have played in the realisation of the dream for a purpose built construction centre with the potential to support their industry in the competitive e-world of 21st Century business.
How much foundation lies behind the belief that these ICT converted lecturers have embraced change so well due to their industrial backgrounds might well merit further exploration. Certainly there is little doubt that they will continue to push out the boundaries, pursuing further change and challenge 'with eager feet' even though 'whither then...they cannot say.'
Their road goes ever on and on...
And they must follow, if they can,
Pursuing it with eager feet...
And whither then? They cannot say."
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